Citation Stickiness, Computer-Assisted Legal Research, and the Universe of Thinkable Thoughts (With Alexa Chew)
Legal information has been available in widespread digital format for more than forty years. In that time, law librarians have wondered whether this digital switch has changed how law students and lawyers conduct research and, if so, what those changes are. Does legal research differ when conducted in print sources rather than computerized sources? What influence did the systems of organizing law in the print era have on the digital systems that followed?
While we cannot put these questions to rest, we hope to shed some light on those difference by studying the work of lawyers and courts from the print era, the transition-to-digital era, and the digital era. Using a metric called “citation stickiness,” we studied how often parties to an appeal and the judges hearing that appeal agreed on the cases relevant to resolve the issues on appeal. This, we hoped, would also show whether there were perceptible differences in coherence and stability of the legal information landscape.
Citation stickiness works like this: a citation is “sticky” if it appears in at least one party’s brief and then again in the court opinion. In an initial study of 325 federal court cases from 2017, 49% of the 7,552 cases that were cited in the courts’ opinions had been cited by at least one party in a brief.
This study considers cases from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided in 1957, 1987, and 2017. After examining the citations in the briefs and opinions in our sample of cases, we compare our findings from the pre-digital era and from the digital era. What we learned surprised us.
Teaching Free and Low-Cost Legal Resources
In law schools and law firms, law librarians teach modules on how to conduct research with free and low-cost legal resources. This working paper reviews recent literature on legal research instruction. A survey of curricula, modules, and course materials about free and low-cost legal resources then follows. A framework for a model curriculum is proposed based on the preceding two sections and on additional scholarly literature, including the Boulder Statement on Legal Research Education. The paper concludes with an exploration of the responsibilities of law librarians to teach, promote, or create free and low-cost resources.
Yellow Flag Fever: Describing Negative Legal Precedent in Citators (news)
This paper analyzes the accuracy with which descriptions of subsequent negative treatment are applied by an online citator system that employs a hierarchical controlled vocabulary—Shepard’s Citations—as opposed to one that does not—KeyCite. After a contextual review of the citator’s history, a framework for assessment is proposed and employed to test the hypothesis that a citator employing a hierarchical controlled vocabulary would produce more accurate descriptions. The study’s results suggest that a system making use of a hierarchical controlled vocabulary does apply descriptions of subsequent negative treatment in a marginally more accurate way. A discussion of the citator’s place in legal research follows, including the suggestion that legal research instructors and researchers themselves, namely lawyers, should reconceptualize the role citators occupy in the legal research process.