In Memoriam: Dwight D. Opperman

Dwight D. Opperman, the former chairman of West Publishing Company and creator of Westlaw, died on June 13 at his home in Bel Air, California, after a five-month battle with liver cancer. An icon in the legal community and a noted philanthropist, Mr. Opperman was 89. 

 A native of Perry, Iowa, Mr. Opperman graduated from Drake University with a law degree in 1951 and moved to the Twin Cities to become an editor at West Publishing Company.  He rose to the top of West, the largest and most prominent legal publisher in the United States, and led the company into the digital age as it developed Westlaw, the online legal-research service the company launched in the mid-1970s. In 1996, the company was sold to what is now Thomson Reuters for $ 3.4 billion. As president, chief executive officer, and chairman of West Publishing Company, Mr. Opperman was instrumental in fostering the longstanding, mutually beneficial relationship between West and The American Law Institute that endures as ALI Publishers. He was a member of the Institute for 20 years. Among his many other contributions to the legal profession, he was a major benefactor of the American Judicature Society, the United States Supreme Court Historical Society, and a number of Minnesota law schools, most notably his alma mater, Drake University.  In 1982, he established the Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award to recognize the unsung heroes of the federal bench.

Mr. Opperman is survived by his wife, Julie Chrystyn Opperman, and two sons, Vance, an ALI member, and Fane. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the eulogy at funeral services held in Glendale, California, on June 22.