By Jessica R. Alexander, Reference & Circulation Librarian, South Texas College of Law Library
Universal case citation is more than a passing fad; universal case citation is a growing legal phenomenon soon to be
encountered by nearly all legal professionals. What is universal case citation and why is it becoming so important?
The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) defines "medium neutral citation" (a.k.a. universal case citation, vendor neutral case citation, or public domain citation) as "...a system of citation that permits reference to legal or law-related information in any medium, print or electronic, without requiring reference to proprietary products of any particular publisher1. Legal professionals and law students may find it difficult to imagine not using the familiar West's Reporter System citation format, or at least a citation to refer to another proprietor's publications. Universal case citation, however, eliminates these references as the primary citation and relegates them to parallel status.
Universal case citation sometimes is called "public domain citation," because the text of statutes, regulations, and case opinions belong to the public and are ostensibly free. The public, through lawyers, ironically pays private vendors for access to information it already owns. This practice endures despite the fact that many courts and legislatures issue their opinions, statutes, and regulations in print at the same time as for-profit publishers print the same material in special formatting and with proprietary information added. The availability of court opinions on the Internet has challenged the status quo. Many lawmakers surmise that the public good demands that authenticated court opinions on the Internet should be the preferred versions for legal argument. The biggest drawback to this proposal is the expense of retroactive conversion of documents dating back to the 1800s into the new electronic format. Courts mandating the new system bring the cost into account and currently still allow vendor and format specific citations.
The AALL and the American Bar Association (ABA) both have passed resolutions and have adopted guidelines on universal citations. The differences between the AALL and the ABA systems are small.
At the AALL 1999 Annual Convention, Bruce Kennedy explained the elements of the universal case citation system in a workshop entitled "The AALL Universal Case Citation Explained and Defended."2 Mr. Kennedy provided an example of a decision rendered by the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1996. The traditional Bluebook citation would be 922 F. Supp. 922 (S.D.N.Y. 1996). The AALL citation uses a case or opinion number to identify it uniquely and moves the proprietary reference to the position of a parallel citation; thus, the AALL citation is 1996 S.D.N.Y. 15, 922 F. Supp. 214. The elements of an AALL citation are the case name, year, court designator, opinion number, and optional paragraph number. The AALL has issued a User Guide to the AALL Universal Case Citation.
The ABA Special Committee on Citation Issues, Report No. 107, proposed recommending a uniform citation form to the courts. The House of Delegates adopted this proposal on August 6, 1996. The ABA provides standards on its Legal Technology Resource Center Uniform Citation Standards web-site at http://www.abanet.org/citation/home.html. According to the website, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is the only federal court considering universal citation. Some states have adopted or allow universal citation: Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Some states are considering a change: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. Texas is one of the majority of states which have not implemented universal citation formats.
The latest edition of The Bluebook3 has recognized universal citation in Rule 10.3. 1 and directs the writer to use the format where such citations are official. Given that some states mandate universal citation formats, law review editors should become familiar with these emerging systems.
With rapid Internet development, universal citation systems may be the wave of the future. We can be sure, however, that proprietary legal publishers will continue to upgrade their products in a manner pleasing to the legal community.
1. AALL Citation Formats Committee, The Universal Legal Citation Project: A Draft User Guide to the AALL Universal Case Citation, 89 L. LIBR. J. 7 (1989), available at Citation Formats Committee (visited August 10, 1999) (http://www.aallnet.org/committee/citation/case.html).
2. Bruce Kennedy, presentation at the 1999 Annual Meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries, The AALL Universal Case Citation Explained and Defended, at workshop entitled AALL's Universal Citation Guide on Trial: The Drafters Present Their Case for the Adoption of New Standards, Part 1, (Oral Presentation with PowerPoint Outline) (July 18, 1999). Mr. Kennedy was the principal drafter for the AALL Citation Formats Committee.