Neutral Citation, Court Web Sites, and Access to Authoritative Case Law
37 Pages Posted: 19 Dec 2006
Date Written: December 2006
In 1994 the Wisconsin Bar and Judicial Council together urged the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take two dramatic steps with the combined aim of improving access to state case law: 1) adopt a new system of neutral citation and 2) establish a digital archive of decisions directly available to all publishers and the public. The recommendations set off a storm, and the Wisconsin court deferred decision on the package.
In the years since those events, the background conditions have shifted dramatically. Neutral citation has been endorsed by the AALL and ABA and formally adopted in over a dozen states, including Wisconsin. Thomson's acquisition of the West Publishing Company removed the principal source of opposition. Court Web sites, non-existent in 1994, are now a standard feature of e-government with the result that the idea of a public case archive, open to all, no longer stretches imaginations.
With the environment seemingly so much more hospitable to the 1994 Wisconsin recommendations, one might expect to see them widely implemented. Yet less than a handful of states have effectively put them to work in tandem. This paper describes the factors that came together in the right way and at the right time in those states, along with the apparent results. It also explores some of the reasons why they stand today as lonely illustrations of "best practice."
Keywords: online, case law, digital, electronic, copyright, citation, West Publishing, legal information, bar groups, Lexis, Westlaw, Versuslaw, Loislaw, casemaker, fastcase
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