Traditionally, case citations refer to the physical location of a published opinion in a reporter, the rationale being that cases were most readily available in books and that legal professionals would refer to them in order to access relevant cases. This system made sense before the proliferation of personal computers, the internet and digitalization. Now that judicial opinions can be posted online and accessed digitally rather than in print, new citation systems are becoming attractive options in many states.
The trend towards vendor-neutral citation (also called public-domain citation) – a system whereby citations are not predicated upon the location of the case in a physical reporter; but rather, that includes the minimum amount of information about a case to uniquely identify it – is becoming more widespread. Part of the benefit of this system of citation is that individuals can cite a case as soon as it is filed, rather than having to wait until it is officially published in a reporter. The latest to join the other dozen or so states making the switch is Illinois, whose vendor-neutral citation legislation will take effect on July 1 of this year.
Vendor-neutral citation will look something like this: “2011 IL 123456” preceded by the case title. In the case of Illinois, all that is required to uniquely identify cases are the decision year, the court abbreviation and the unique identifier number which is derived from the docket number. Additionally, all cases containing vendor-neutral citation will also have paragraph markers to which citations may refer, making legal research more efficient. Illinois makes these cases available to view or download on their courts’ own websites and Fastcase posts them online within 24 hours of release.
The term “public-domain citation” refers to a fundamental value-judgment that underlies the shift, that judicial opinions are public knowledge and should be available to everyone to the extent that they can. It reflects the attitude that what should be more important in legal work is not access to information, but the skill in using it.
Ultimately, this move towards vendor-neutral citation benefits everyone. The need for courts to work with publishers is eliminated, as are the costs associated with waiting for and printing published judicial opinions. Tax-payers save money, as courts no longer incur the expense of purchasing and storing expensive case books. Bar associations benefit from the gradual diminishing of reliance upon monolithic publishers. Finally, clients and law firms benefit alike from the ability to offer and accept lower research costs, making representation more affordable and available to everyone. Fastcase will make the vendor-neutral citation available on every Illinois case released after July 1, 2011.
Illinois attorneys looking for more information about rules for citing these cases can find it here.