January 25, 2012
Why are we still citing to page numbers?
Never one to mince words, Jason Wilson answers the question asked in the title of his post, Why the fuck are we still citing to page numbers in cases? Highly recommended. Do note he also lists the 16 enlightened states that have adopted paragraph-level citation rules.
Adding paragraph numbering to e-text inventories is doable. It actually wouldn't be all that expensive or difficult for online vendors to add paragraph numbers to court opinions. Any well-formed e-text (except perhaps PDFs) can be programmed to insert a damn paragraph number by way of regular expressions-like commands. Entire database files can be executed at once as long as e-text coding is consistent. Essentially the regular expression commands would be:
- Find text of opinion section code;
- Find code for start of paragraph;
- Insert paragraph number;
- Find next paragraph code;
- Insert paragraph number by adding 1 to last paragraph number;
- Continue process until end of text of opinion section code is found;
- Move to next opinion file and start the processing again.
Anyone think I hand-coded the above numerically ordered list? The above process is familiar to all who use "find and replace" functions in word processing applications.
But which major legal search vendor will be the first to do it? Probably not West! I have a hunch that if a major vendor unilaterally decided to add paragraph numbers to court opinions across the board "for the hell of it," it would propel the adoption of a more enlightened citation norm and as Wilson notes, one with greater pinpoint references.
Some may ask but what about citation indexes? That indeed would take more work if applied retrospectively by way of correlation tables requiring human editors to identify pinpoints. Doing so would be problematic at best where cited references do not include quotes from the text. Best, I think to leave legacy citation lists untouched and just move on.
At some point in time, text and tools have to adjust to the reality of electronic legal publishing. The "page" should be "history" by now. [JH]
I don't know why West would be the last to do this. West has long lead in improvements to legal research. I often observe that you have to be a blithering idiot to mess up a West update (as in putting in pocket parts). This is far more than I can say for MANY other publishers. They set the industry standard for updates.
West may not be perfect, but they have a customer-service attitude.
Posted by: John Hightower | Jan 25, 2012 6:54:01 AM