August 20, 2012
Living in the Past: Who will take the lead in establishing legal citation protocols now that the end of the print era is in sight?
The next edition of the Canadian Guide to Legal Citation "could prove to be a breakthrough edition if the editors choose to end the fiction that print law reports still matter in legal research" writes Gary Rodrigues. To do that, he recommends the Guide's editors should "introduce reality into the practice of citing court decisions by a few simple changes to the recommended Hierarchy of Sources for case law."
Of course, the legal publishers can cut to the chase and get ahead of The Guide to Legal Citation. Citations to electronic sources for the commercial publishers now appear in print publications for their own digital sources together with print citations.
Where it is unavoidable, citations for competing electronic databases are also referenced, i.e. where a judgment specifically refers to a competing electronic source. Ideally, legal publishers should follow the print model and provide all possible correlative electronic citations in every print publication. Without a doubt, the fear of giving a competitor an advantage makes that unlikely in the foreseeable future.
Fear of change will also delay decisions to drop print citations. Academics in particular will worry that their words will look less scholarly and less authoritative if they are not heavily footnoted by print citations. No publisher will want to be first for fear of being criticized by those living in the past.
Here in the US, legal publishers also could cut to the chase by adding paragraph numbering to court opinions in their e-text where pagination has not yet been officially eliminated for pinpoint cites. Who will be the first to take the bull by the horns by just doing it? Since what is and what is not a paragraph is a matter of interpretation, commercial vendors can copyright their individual paragraph numbering systems! Who will decide that a blockquote is (or is not a) new paragraph first just may win AALL's Best Product of the Year award someday.
Rogrigues explains why citation protocols should change because the era of print law reporting is history on Slaw in Reality Check. The same argument can be made for statutory and regulatory resources now and, in the not too distant future, for secondary legal sources. [JH]