Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Print Citators and Professional Negligence

While teaching basic research skills to 1Ls this week, a potentially blasphemous idea crossed my mind:  Is using the print-based version of a citator to update an important source professional negligence?  The answer is probably no, but the ubiquitous and easy-to-use nature of online source updating does make me question the prudence of using print.  At the least, practitioners who use a print citator without calling a research service to obtain up-to-the-minute case updates may be at risk of using a source that was overruled since the last print update.

Even if using the books instead of the online citators does not rise to the level of negligence, using print definitely entails peril for the practitioner.  It is easy to miss critical notations in the fine print of a book, and it is even easier to misunderstand the somewhat complex process to update the citator itself.  Perhaps the real question is whether using print citators to update cases is wise.  My answer is that in most cases it is not.  The cost in time would likely outweigh the cost in electronic research services for most attorneys.

Should legal writing and research professors teach students how to use print citators?  Or should we teach students that using print is a bad idea when online services like KeyCite and Shepard’s are on the market?



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I thought most schools had abandoned their print Shepard's by now.

Posted by: James | Sep 20, 2011 9:04:44 PM

Interesting issue, and it raises another one: if someone doesn't use a print citator and uses only an electronic research service that doesn't have an accompanying citator, would that be professional negligence? Westlaw and Lexis have citators, but what about other electronic research services? FastCase provides this disclaimer for one of its features: "Authority Check is an automated system that identifies later-citing cases, but it is not a citator, and does not include editorial information telling you whether your case is still good law. Before filing papers with a court or in any way relying on the continuing validity of cases, we recommend that you use either Shepards or KeyCite as a citator. They are available transactionally, and without a subscription." Google Scholar offers a cite-checking feature like Fastcase's Authority Check, identifying citing cases but not providing any indication of how the citing cases treat the retrieved case.

At this point, it looks like Westlaw and Lexis remain the only sources for the kind of updating information we expect to derive from full-fledged citators. Which means that even those who subscribe to less-expensive research services will likely find themselves trekking back to Westlaw and Lexis for this component of their research.

Posted by: Christopher G. Wren | Sep 21, 2011 1:38:47 PM

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