Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Vendor Neutral Citation is getting some traction

Well, besides Judge Posner's poison valentine, The Bluebook Blues, 120 Yale L.J. 850 (2011), there have been a number of blog posts recently reacting to the article. Judge Posner is a long-time Bluebook antagonist (see Posner, Goodbye to the Bluebook, 53 U.Chi.L.Rev. 1343 (1986)), but his solution is not a vendor-neutral citation system. In his recent article, he supplies an example of his own citation system that he teaches to his law clerks. It is not really format or vendor neutral.

Many support his reaction against the Bluebook's traditional-style citation requirements, while struggling towards a different ideal. The Bluebook citation styles, which have been bound to print format, favor not only the old print reporters but also Lexis and Westlaw which provide "star numbering." This means that if you want to provide a pinpoint citation within the decision, you can get the print reporter page number from the "star number" on Westlaw or Lexis, as well as looking at the print reporter. It will provide you with the page numbers for the official reporter as well as the unofficial reporter from the National Reporter series. This pagination is what is required by the Bluebook.

Among the blogs:

UGA Law Library blog (A Library With A View): "Citation Madness" dated Feb. 8, 2011. Provides a nice link to the Yale article, and a link to LII, Peter W. Martin's newly updated Introduction to Basic Legal Citation (2010) explaining the general philosophy, and comparing Bluebook and ALWD citation. "The Dangers of Bluebook Infatuation" by Courtney Minick (a staffer I believe), dated Feb. 18, 2011. This reviews and links to Posner's article, as well as the earlier article by Ian Gallacher, Cite Unseen: How Neutral Citation and America's Law Schools Can Cure Our Strange Devotion to Bibliographical Orthodoxy and the Constriction of Open and Equal Access to the Law, 70 Alb. L. Rev. 491 (2007), which Judge Posner cites with great admiration in his own article. Minick's blog post is useful, not least because she does a nice job of pulling together other links on the topic, including an earlier blog post she wrote on the topic of "Public Domain Legal Citations" (at, dated Dec. 17, 2010), and a page by Alan Sugarman at regarding struggles of an alternative database vendor. Scroll down for entries about his appearance at AALL, with lots of information and links on the metadata for vendor neutral citations of case law, and several other posts may be of interest here as well. Apparently in the text of the post (somewhere I don't see) Sugarman transmits letters from way back in 1997 on the matter of vendor neutral citation, in which Judge Posner, among others, gave their opinions to the Chairman of the Automation & Technology Committee Judicial Conference of the United States, who was preparing a rule on the matter of citation formats. I am certain that there were a variety of opinions, but Judge Posner at that date, was against a vendor neutral citation format, stating (in support of another's comments)

that the numbering of paragraphs in judicial opinions would be a mistake. It would disfigure and bureaucratize the opinion-writing process, and, as he explains, is quite unnecessary. I hope that you will give the most serious consideration to his suggestion.

I also wish to raise with you the question of the NECESSITY of a universal citation form, as anyone with the West citation can readily locate the opinion on-line if he prefers that to the book version.


Richard A. Posner
Chief Judge, Appellate Court and Circuit Administration Division
Well, time and experience can change anybody's mind and I suppose it is a bit much to ask a person with the judicial temperament to eat crow publicly. Judge Posner may not even recall his comments on the matter. And not everybody agreed (see this post by James Love). But it matters a GREAT deal to the entrepreneurs who are trying to make a go of competing against Westlaw and Lexis with alternative databases. Having a rule that allows for a vendor neutral citation, or even that recognizes and supports the fact that most courts DON'T CARE about Bluebook uniformity would go a great deal of the way to helping the competition achieve a more even playing field. There are other problems with modern legal practice that even the Bluebook's newest edition does not begin to deal with, such as how to cite to e-mails (see an excellent review of Bluebook, 16th edition from the AALL Spectrum, Singing the Bluebook Blues, by Warren D. Rees for a good discussion of issues, though it was written in 1997.)

Readers will want to know about the various types of universal citation or public domain citation, medium neutral or format neutral as it may sometimes be called. Universal Citation, an excellent page at Third, states that it was originally a class project on the future of online legal publishing at Harvard in a class on the Future of Business and the Internet in 1997. That dates it, but it pulls together the history of the efforts to achieve a neutral system to that date, with links to support it. It includes links to:

AALL Uniform Citation format, (v.2.1) (and a guide to it, including the economic issues, from attorney Robert Scofield, the Economic Importance of Universal Citation)
the ABA Uniform Citation format, (the page they and others cite,, has disappeared, and seems not to have been moved anywhere. I wish the ABA would re-post it or that I could locate it elsewhere on a mirror site or in archives. I do find "In February 2003 the American Bar Association House of Delegates adopted the following resolution, the Universal Citation Facilitation...")This MAY be the text, but I am not sure!
the ALWD Citation Manual
Various states and Canada as well have citations and links in this history.
Interesting history also includes the opposition to a universal system of citation, largely from West Publishing, now Thomson-Reuters/Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis. The essay includes links to bills introduced unsuccessfully in Congress, along with efforts by various entrepreneurs of alternative databases, such as Alan Sugarman of The essay is balanced, presenting the problems with neutral citation systems as well.

Reviews of ALWD:(compared with the Bluebook in a 2000 article, Bast and Harrell, Has the Bluebook Met its Match? 92 Law Lib.J. 337 (2000). Review of ALWD Citation Manual, comparing with Bluebook, online, Stephen Jamar (2000); compare this review critcizing the newer edition for becoming so large and "bluebooky" at Law Librarian Blog, "Is the New Edition of the ALWD Citation Manual Too Bluebooky?" (Joe Hodnicki posted May, 2010).

Citations in Cyberspace: the universal citation system by Marcia Koslov, at National Center for State Courts Digital Archive, dated 1997. There are many state court and bar association documents floating out there dealing with universal citation formats or public domain citation formats, and even the new edition of the Bluebook recognizes this new trend.


Marie S. Newman said...

Thanks for this good roundup, Betsy. I'm going to introduce my Advanced Legal Research class to vendor/medium-neutral citation tonight, and will be glad to have so many good resources pulled together. In addition to the sources you mention, Professor Peter Martin touches on the issue in "Abandoning Law Reports for Official Digital Case Law," which is available at at p. 29-31. Professor Martin discusses the decision of the state of Arkansas to cease the publication of print reporters and adopt an official digital repository; unfortunately, Arkansas did not take the next logical step and add paragraph designations to cases for citation purposes. According to Professor Martin, this decision "reflects the continuing grip of print practices and runs against the collective judgment of those advocating neutral citation that paragraph numbers are a better choice" [than page numbers].

Clong said...

Great post, Betsy. I'm glad you saw and shared it--I think this is an issue that often gets overlooked, mostly because in states like CA (where I am), we don't have this system, we don't generally cite outside our states, and we're not aware of it. I am happy that its getting some traction, at least online.

For me, it seems a no-brainer: courts just insert paragraph numbers and use a standard citation format when they write the opinion. Then the opinion is instantly citable. It is, in a base form, self-publishing.

It seems like courts are worried about overhead, increased work, etc. I'm guessing that some rely on Wexis to double-check the opinion, and I wonder if they might be afraid to let go of that extra editorial check. As for Posner, I was pretty surprised to see that he was initially opposed to this. Perhaps he's changed his mind since. I need to look into that.

Also, thanks to Marie for posting a link to the Peter Martin article, which does a fantastic job of explaining the history and challenges of this movement to v/n cites.

Unknown said...

Whoops--looks like I signed that comment from my personal blog.

In case it's not clear, it's Courtney at Justia. Thanks!

Schmessers said...

This is extermely relevant in light of the ABA's endorsement of the UEMA.