I can’t say I love legal citation. I understand why we have it and it’s useful to me when I want to look up what’s being cited, but some of the rules frustrate me.
One of the things I do find interesting about legal citation is that for the most part we still rely on a vendor-owned system – West’s National Reporter System – for the majority of our legal citations. Anytime you see an F.2d, P.3d, etc. in a citation, those are based on a the West system. As the internet began changing things there was a push to move away from the West system of citation and go to vendor-neutral citation, so that the West Reporters wouldn’t be needed to cite case law. Some states, including Utah, were pioneers in this effort. The Utah Supreme Court issued a standing order (no. 4) in 2000 instituting a neutral citation that was to be used for cases issued on or after Jan. 1, 1999. (The citation looks like this: Smith v. Jones, 1999 UT 16, ¶ 21.) In reality, the Utah citation was not vendor-neutral as the standing order says that “Intial citation shall also include the volume and initial page number of the Pacific Reporter in which the opinion is published.” So, while Utah has a public domain citation, it still relies on West’s National Reporter System. (The prior example would have to be cited like this initially: Smith v. Jones, 1999 UT 16, ¶ 21, 998 P.2d 250.) Ultimately, the vendor-neutral citation front has been slow to expand.
This has been on my mind recently as Illinois announced that it would institute vendor-neutral citation. From what I’ve seen, Illinois is the largest jurisdiction to take this step and it will be intersesting to see if others follow its lead. (Although I must say some of the examples provided in the article about IL don’t make it look quite as easy as the UT format.) If others do begin following its lead we could see quite a shift in legal citation in the next few years.