Arthur B. Spitzer|
American Civil Liberties Union
of the National Capital Area
1400 20th Street, N.W. #119
Washington, D.C. 20036
Internet address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: March 14, 1997
Re: ABA Citation Resolution
We appreciate the opportunity to comment on this important issue.
We enthusiastically urge the Judicial Conference to adopt the ABA's proposed citation system.
The practice of law is an expensive undertaking. No small part of that expense is the purchase and storage of published case reporters. Lawyers who incur those expenses must pass the cost along to their clients, which helps to keep the purchase of legal services too expensive for most people, and a strain on the pocketbooks of all but the most wealthy. Other lawyers, who serve a clientele than cannot afford high prices -- like most local offices of the American Civil Liberties Union across the country -- are unable to bear the cost of purchasing and storing multiple sets of law books, and simply do without. This makes legal research, at the local law school or county bar association library, more inconvenient and time-consuming and inconvenient, and reduces the quantity -- and sometimes even the quality -- of the legal services provided to their clients.
Modern technology has the potential to solve these problems. Case reports can easily be stored on Compact Discs, which are inexpensive to produce and which occupy very little space in a law office. They also permit researchers to copy and paste quotations and citations directly into briefs and memoranda, making legal writing simultaneously faster and more accurate.
Case reports have become available on CD, but at roughly the same prices that are charged for lawbooks. This is so because there is no effective competition -- all lawyers must buy the West Publishing Company's books. That, in turn, is so because the courts require cases to be cited using the West volume and page numbers.
In the past, there was really no alternative to this system. Today there is an alternative, and the Judicial Conference should embrace it, just as the Conference has embraced electronic filing as the preferred method of filing these comments.
The ABA proposal is a simple and economical way to bring effective competition to the field of case report publication, and its adoption by the Judicial Conference -- with state courts likely to follow -- will make it far more affordable for lawyers to buy and keep case reports in their offices. The Conference should not endorse the ABA proposal because it will be of benefit to certain legal publishers, or even because it will be of benefit to lawyers, but because its effect will be to make legal representation more affordable, and thus more widely available, to those who need it. It will also make it possible for underfunded lawyers -- including private practitioners with non-wealthy clients, legal aid organizations, and public interest groups such as the ACLU -- to practice law more effectively and on a more level playing field with their adversaries.
While the West Publishing Company may lose some profits, concern for the financial health of a private company is not an appropriate reason for the Judicial Conference or the federal courts to force lawyers to use any particular private company's (allegedly) proprietary citation system. Many lawyers find West's copyrighted headnotes and digests a very useful research tool, and those who wish to have the benefits of that system will continue to buy their lawbooks from West.
The ABA's proposed citation system will be inexpensive and easy for courts to
use in releasing cases, and easy for lawyers and other courts to use in
citing cases. This is truly an important opportunity to make the law
accessible to the people whose law it is. We urge the Conference to do so.
Arthur B. Spitzer
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