Posts Tagged ‘codes’

Citation Software

Monday, January 4th, 2016

Citations and Software – A Long and Vexed Relationship

Hat tip to the team responsible for Blueline (http://blueline.blue/), who suggested a post on the love-hate relationship between programmers and The Bluebook.

They have discovered, as others have before, how challenging it is to create software that will identify all the legal citations in a document and do something to or with them. The trail, dotted with patents and patent applications, is a long one, stretching back to the 1980s when a pair of Harvard Law School grads established a software enterprise they called Jurisoft. By 1986 Jurisoft’s offerings included CiteRite, list price $395, very likely the first successful PC program focused on the professional rather than business side of law practice. CiteRite would scan a brief for citations and generate a report enumerating all failures to conform to Bluebook format. In short order, Jurisoft was acquired by the parent company of Lexis. By 1990 the Jurisoft line included a companion program named FullAuthority, which to quote one reviewer had the “smarts” to do the following:

All you have to do with FullAuthority is tell it the name of the text file on your computer that contains the legal citations. It will zip through your document, tracking each legal citation like a bloodhound. When it has rounded them all up, it will organize them into groups. These groups may include cases (with separate categories for state and federal cases), statutes (with separate categories for state and federal statutes) and other authorities.

Together CiteRite II and FullAuthority comprised Jurisoft’s Citation Toolbox.  Their system requirements are a stark reminder of the computer environment of the early 1990’s:

IBM PC or compatible, MS-DOS 2.0 or higher, 250 kilobytes available memory, hard disk recommended

In the early 1990s both major online providers were moving toward hyperlinking some of the citations that appeared in their collections of judicial opinions, which, of course, required them (and all subsequent competitors) to have sophisticated inhouse tools for identifying and manipulating citations.

In time Word replaced WordPerfect as lawyers’ preferred word processing software and Dakota Legal Software brought out a Word add-on designed to compete with the Jurisoft programs. Lexis acquired its technology as well and folded it into the company’s Lexis for Microsoft Office. Today, that package, like the comparable Drafting Assistant from Westlaw, performs cite-checking, quote-checking, and citation linking in addition to format review and table of authorities compilation.

Both major vendors also have, included as part of their latest generation systems, a copy-with-citation feature purporting to furnish a properly formatted citation (in any one of numerous formats including the distinctive non-Bluebook variants employed in California. Michigan, and New York).  They were reviewed in an earlier post.

Citation tools operating outside and apart from Westlaw and Lexis continued to appear. Although maintenance of the CiteIt! software appears to have ended over a decade ago, the product’s features are still on display at: http://www.sidebarsoft.com/. Another product, CiteGenie, held its ground until WestlawNext’s copy-with-citation feature effectively supplanted it. And, for a time, Jureeka! offered those reading citation-filled documents on the open Web a browser add-on that would converted plain text citations into links. Now along comes Blueline.

Some Reasons for Programmers to Love The Bluebook

Whether designed to review a document for citation format compliance, to check a citator for authority undercutting cited decisions, or to compile a table of authorities, verify the accuracy of a quotation, or generate a link, citation software must first identify which of the diverse character strings found as it scans a document constitute citations and not addresses, part numbers, or radio station call letters. If citation format were uniform across the United States, if judges in federal and state courts and the lawyers submitting documents to them conformed their citations of authority to a common standard presented in a consistent format, the job would be an easy one. The Bluebook, with its claim to offer “a uniform system of citation” (a phrase its proprietors have trademarked), purports to be just that. And so it is within the universe of academic law journals. Complex though it may be, to the extent that the citations in U.S. law writing conform to The Bluebook the programmer’s job is relatively straightforward. To the chagrin of those attempting to construct citation-identifying algorithms, however, courts in the fifty U.S. states have quite diverse ideas about citation norms. Often they are focused narrowly on the legal authorities most frequently cited in cases coming before them. The Bluebook specifies that Indiana Code sections be cited in the format “Ind. Code § x-x-x-x” and those of the Idaho Code as “Idaho Code § x-x”, but when judges and lawyers in Indiana cite code provisions to one another they often cite to I.C. § x-x-x-x; just as those in Idaho cite to I.C. § x-x. Generally, the federal courts and those practicing before them take a less parochial view when citing state authorities, but they are far from consistent on some very basic points. The Bluebook has it that a provision in the Code of Federal Regulations should be cited: “x C.F.R. § xxx.xx (year)”. The U.S. Supreme Court favors “x CFR § xxx.xx” (no periods, no date) but is not followed on this point by most lower federal courts. (Those at Blueline claim their citation analysis suggests “that Republican appointed judges typically cite the U.S. Code as ‘USC’, whereas Democrat appointees prefer ‘U.S.C.'”) Approaches to compressing party names and citing treatises are all over the place.  The same holds for abbreviations of the several sets of federal procedural rules as cited in briefs and court opinions.

A citation reform movement of the last two decades has called for courts to break away from print-dependent case identifiers through the attachment of vendor and medium neutral citations to their decisions prior to release. Building on recommendations of the ABA, the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) prepared a detailed implementation manual. It carries the title AALL Universal Citation Guide and provides a modern blueprint for uniformity. No surprise, several of the states adopting the new approach have deviated substantially from it. How does The Bluebook address the resulting lack of uniformity? Its Rule 10.3.3 instructs that “the requirements of the jurisdiction’s format should be observed.”

As the folks at Blueline put it “the approved and unapproved variations in Bluebook style create a huge hurdle for coders who rely on hard and fast rules.”  Weak force though it may be, The Bluebook does offer a template for citation recognition on which programmers can begin to build. Deviations from its “uniform system” can be then treated as special cases or alternatives.

Grounds for Programmer Frustration with The Bluebook

Were all judges and lawyers to follow The Bluebook meticulously, would programmers be satisfied? Not so long as its citation rules remain stuck in print-era conventions. Volume and page number are far less precise than “2015 IL 117090, ¶ 31” which points to a single paragraph (straddling a page-break) in a uniquely identified decision of the Illinois Supreme Court. Decided this past January, the decision only later received volume number and pagination in the National Reporter System. Yet The Bluebook directs the passage in question be cited by the latter formula (unnecessary, delayed, and less exact). Page numbers can even yield ambiguous results. A Blueline communique reports that “a query intended for Peate v. McCann, 294 F.3d 879 (7th Cir. 2002) accidentally pulled McCaskill v. Sci Management Corp., 294 F.3d 879 (7th Cir. 2002) because the latter opinion was only 44 words long.”

The Bluebook‘s deference to the major online services, particularly when dealing with the increasingly large pool of “unpublished” decisions, is another problem. A single decision is known as “2015 BL 377979” on Bloomberg Law, “2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155224” on Lexis, and “2015 WL 7253819”.  Google Scholar and other public access sites have the decision but don’t know it by any of those designations. No citation parser can establish the identity of those references or match any of them to a non-proprietary version of the case. Situated as it is in the academy, a domain handsomely served by the major commercial systems, The Bluebook fails to address this problem adequately, and its deference to the commercial sector leads to a strong bias in favor of publisher-specific citations.

That same bias combined with The Bluebook‘s continuing attachment to print leads to rules for statutory and treatise citations that are not followed uniformly because in the current practice environment they simply cannot be.

Citations Generated by the Major Online Systems

Friday, November 14th, 2014

A recent post on the Legal Writing Prof Blog draws attention to Westlaw’s copy-with-reference feature. Its author raises a concern that the option to have citations formatted in the ALWD style still yields citations conformed to that manual’s fourth edition rather than the fifth edition, published earlier this year.  Since ALWD’s new version adheres to The Bluebook’s citation style in nearly all particulars, that problem is easily solved: The Westlaw folks need simply to remove the ALWD option.  However, those engaged in teaching legal writing and introducing law students to citation need to be attentive to numerous other imperfections in this WestlawNext feature and its LexisAdvance analog, as well as in the citations generated by other research services those 1Ls may employ once in practice.

copywithcite1

To begin, although the blogger writes of there being a Bluebook option, that label does not appear among the citation format options of either major service.  The default citation style offered by both Westlaw and Lexis is denominated “Standard”.  Is that due to trademark concerns?  For reasons set out in an earlier post, I doubt it.  The truth is that neither system consistently produces Bluebook compliant citations across the several types of authority and to suggest otherwise would be misleading.  “Standard” doesn’t make such a claim, although it appears it may lead legal writing teachers and their students, not to speak of lawyers and other online researchers, to believe that is the case.

One other point made in that short post arouses concern. Its author observes that because of this new and amazing feature “I can spend a little less time teaching citation format.”  For reasons explained in the latest version of Basic Legal Citation, I view that as a mistake. Let me point out a few reasons why a researcher who wants to employ Bluebook (or ALWD) conforming citations in a brief or memorandum will have to know enough to add, subtract, or modify those delivered by either Westlaw or Lexis.

1. Cases

As pointed out in an earlier post, a major attraction of any copy-with-reference function is that the case name segment of the citations it delivers will have been shrunk through the dropping and abbreviating of certain words.  Per The Bluebook a decision rendered in the matter of

Edward Mann and Holly Mann, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. LaSalle National Bank, as Trustee under Trust Agreement dated March 22, 1960, and known as Trust No. 24184; Ellenora Kelly; John J. Waters; Irene Breen, as Trustee under Provisions of the Trust Agreement dated January 31, 1973, and known as Trust No. 841; Unknown Beneficiaries of Trust Agreement dated January 31, 1973, and known as Trust No. 841; and Unknown Owners, Defendants-Appellants

is reduced to “Mann v. LaSalle Nat’l Bank”.  Westlaw’s “Standard” format citation for the case is a close though not identical “Mann v. LaSalle Nat. Bank”.  Not The Bluebook’s “Nat’l” nor the “Natl.” favored by earlier editions of the ALWD manual and Bloomberg Law but “Nat.”, the abbreviation long employed by West Publishing Company.

Illinois has its own style manual.  It contains a very short list of names that are to be abbreviated in case names.  “National” is not one of them.  Consequently, citations to Mann by Illinois courts present the case name as “Mann v. LaSalle National Bank”.  One might expect that since Westlaw’s copy-with-reference offers an “Illinois” option choosing it would yield that result.  It doesn’t; the case name for this decision still comes out as “Mann v. LaSalle Nat. Bank”.  LexisAdvance also offers a choice between “Standard” and “Illinois” style citations when copying passages from Mann.  As with Westlaw they render the case name identically.  But in compliance with The Bluebook, Lexis abbreviates “National” as “Nat’l”.

A big deal?  Grounds for choosing Lexis over Westlaw?  Hardly.  I know of no instance of an attorney being chastised by a court for using non-Bluebook abbreviations and have argued that consistent use of those delivered by the writer’s online source ought to be a totally acceptable approach in professional practice.  With their tight attachment to The Bluebook, law journal editors are likely to disagree.

The bigger deal is how Westlaw and Lexis treat the balance of a case citation, particularly if the jurisdiction has, like Illinois, adopted a system of non-print-based citation.  Take the recent case of Brandhorst v. Johnson.  In decisions of Illinois courts and briefs submitted to them a reference to a particular passage of that case in the form ”Brandhorst v. Johnson, 2014 IL App (4th) 130923, ¶ 57” would be complete.  The Bluebook insists that a reference to the National Reporter System (“12 N.E.3d 198, 210” in the case of that passage of Brandhorst) be included in parallel.  When the paragraph in question is copied from WestlawNext with its citation in “Standard” format the paragraph number is not included in the cite.  (LexisAdvance includes it.)  Westlaw does not include the parallel N.E.3d cite in either the “Standard” or “Illinois” style citations for the case. Lexis includes it and adhering to The Bluebook includes a pinpoint page reference.  However, Lexis departs from The Bluebook by throwing in the totally unnecessary “382 Ill. Dec. 198, 206” when the “Standard” format is chosen.  Westlaw’s “Illinois” style citation for the case adds the parenthetical “(Ill. App. Ct. 4th Dist. June 11, 2014)” which none of the style manuals calls for.  The Illinois style guide explicitly states that there is no need for a citation to identify the appellate district “unless that information is of particular relevance to the discussion”.  (Moreover, since the district number is part of the jurisdiction’s public domain citation system, with any recent case like Brandhorst its repetition in a parenthetical wastes space.)  In sum, neither Westlaw nor Lexis delivers a Bluebook cite for this case.  Neither delivers an “Illinois” format citation that conforms to the state’s style guide.  Users who would conform their writing to either of those citation standards need to modify or add to what those online systems serve up programmatically along with a copied passage.

2. Statutes (and regulations)

A provision of the Social Security Act with considerable contemporary relevance is to be found in 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(1)(A)(ii).  Copy its language with citation from Westlaw and what you get is “42 U.S.C.A. § 416 (West)”.  Lexis renders its citation as “42 USCS § 416”.  Neither service is prepared to yield its branded designation of the U.S. Code to the conventionally used generic or official format.  Neither includes a date or other indication of the currency of the compilation The Bluebook calls for.  And critically, neither provides the absolutely essential subsection and paragraph identifiers that specify the portion of 42 U.S.C. § 416 one is copying.  The blocked text may include “(ii)” but that alone is not enough.  The same failure to reach below the section level holds with citations to regulations.

3. Conclusion

At their current stage of evolution none of the major research services (including not only Westlaw and Lexis, but Bloomberg Law, Fastcase, and Casemaker) can be relied upon to produce primary law citations that fully comply with The Bluebook or, indeed, any of the other citation styles they may list.  In any setting where citation format is critical, users need to know that.  And all researchers need to be aware that the citations of statutes or regulations these systems generate will often be seriously incomplete.

What does the start of a new year mean in legal citation?

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

A year change prompts reflection on the roles dates play in legal citation. I use the plural “roles” because of the diversity of functions dates serve in citations.  With some sources they are largely superfluous; with others, they are critical to retrieval.

Cases

As noted in a prior post, the full date of release is a crucial part of the identifying data for any unpublished opinion. Among the decisions released this week by the Second Circuit is one that should now and into the future be cited as: Wager v. Littell, No. 13-1683-cv (2d Cir. Jan. 6, 2014).

In all U.S. jurisdictions that have adopted systems of medium neutral case citation, the year of a decision is an integral part of its cite or retrieval tag. The decision, People v. Radojcic, 2013 IL 114197, would have been designated 2014 IL 114197, had it been released by the Illinois Supreme Court during the early part of 2014 rather than on Nov. 21, 2013. On Dec. 23, 2013, the Colorado Supreme Court released its opinion in People v. Cunningham, 2013 CO 71. Had it instead been the court’s first decision of this month it would have been 2014 CO 1. (Illinois and Colorado employ different systems of designating decisions rendered within the year.)

In a majority of U.S. jurisdictions, however, the year of a precedential decision is not critical for identification or retrieval. Nonetheless, it is routinely included as one element of a complete case citation. Thus, when a 2013 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court cites an earlier decision, that decision is identified as Trainor v. Hernandez, 431 U. S. 434, 443 (1977). Why include the year? “431 U.S. 434” provides all the information one needs to retrieve that earlier decision from any database or library shelf? The reason presumably is that knowing the year of a decision may help a reader to decide whether to look at it. It provides useful but not critical information.

Finally, it may be worth noting that the year incorporated within a decision citation is not the year that the case was compiled into a print volume or that the volume was finally published but rather the year the decision was issued.

Statutes

Citations to session laws generally include the year of enactment. Indeed, the year is often part of an act’s name. If the legislation has not been named, its full date will be employed for that purpose, as, for example, “Act of Dec. 9, 2013”.

What to do when citing to a section of a jurisdiction’s codified laws is bit of a puzzle. Should a year be furnished and, if so, what year? Now that the year is 2014 has section 110 of title 17 of the United States Code become 17 U.S.C. § 110 (2014)? Is that a function of the cutoff date of the writer’s source?

The most recent print version of 17 U.S.C. § 110 published by the Government Printing Office appears in a set denominated the 2012 edition. However, since that edition extends through the term of the 112th Congress it, in fact, includes laws passed and signed into law in the early days of 2013. The volume in which 17 U.S.C. § 110 appears was printed in 2013. Other volumes of the 2012 edition have yet to appear.  Westlaw doesn’t provide an “as of” date for this or other sections of the U.S. Code but it does report that the most recent amendment of this particular section took effect on April 27, 2005. Lexis represents that its version of the U.S. Code is “Current through PL 113-57, approved 12/9/13.” The LII notes of its version “Current through Pub. L. 113-52” without providing a date. However one interprets of The Bluebook’s prescription on this point, it definitely calls for some date to be appended to 17 U.S.C. § 110, in parentheses.

The more sensible approach, at least in legal writing produced by or for courts, is that followed by the U.S. Supreme Court. So long as an opinion of the Court is referring to sections of the code currently in effect, its citations include no date element. The lower federal courts follow the same practice as do most lawyers submitting briefs to federal courts. One also finds dateless statutory citations in the appellate decisions and briefs from such prominent states as California, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Only when the provision being cited has, by the time of writing, been repealed or amended or has only recently been enacted does it become important to specify the date of a compilation that contains the language being cited. The precise form this takes will necessarily be governed by the form in which that compilation presents its cutoff date, and it ought to report the compilation date not the year that compilation appeared in print or online.

Regulations

The considerations bearing on citations to regulations appear very much the same. However, professional practice is less consistent. Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and judges of lower federal courts will often include the year of compilation for a Code of Federal Regulations provision in an opinion’s first citation to it, leaving the year off all subsequent references. Arguably, for as long as annual print compilations constituted the principal source for codified regulations that approach furnished useful information. Today, with constantly updated compilations maintained not only by commercial online services but the Government Printing Office, it makes better sense for both writer and reader to understand that a citation in a brief or opinion to 37 C.F.R. § 205.22 refers to the provision in effect at the time of writing. With a section that has not changed since 2008, the addition of 2013 or, as of last week, 2014 in parentheses serves little purpose. For that reason many judges and lawyers would cite to 37 C.F.R. § 205.22 (or a state equivalent) without indicating a year, again, unless the litigation concerned an earlier version or the regulation in question has undergone recent change.

Commentary

Dates are far less precise and therefore less useful in citations to journal articles. Because publication delays are common with student-edited journals, numerous articles that failed to appear in 2013 will nonetheless carry that date.  Many destined to appear in 2014 last received attention from their author or an editor in 2013. Judicial opinions, legislative enactments, and regulations all carry specific release or effective dates.  Individual journal articles do not. Notwithstanding the imprecision and limited utility, attachment of the nominal year of publication to article citations is accepted practice.

The same holds for treatise  citations with greater reason and despite a further difficulty. Most major treatises have been acquired by an online research service and are bundled with the service’s primary law materials.  In both print and online form they are updated at least annually. In print, the updates may be integrated, the case with treatises published in a looseleaf format, or they may be issued in a separate supplement.  Online, they are integrated without any indication of what was changed or when. Under these circumstances, how should one date a section of A. Wright, A. Miller & M. K. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure or M. Nimmer & D. Nimmer, Nimmer on Copyright in a brief or opinion prepared during 2014? Should that depend on whether one accessed the material in print or online? Assuming that one is citing to the current work rather than a prior edition or version, the best practice is to cite to the year of the most recent update or revision of the source relied on. Following that practice one would in January 2014 still use the year 2013 for both those works since they were last updated during that year, a fact noted in their print and electronic versions.

The updating phenomenon bestows greater importance on the date associated with a treatise citation. Unlike journal articles these are not static works. A reference to a particular section as it existed some years ago, 2004 say, or 1994, may well, if followed into the current version of the treatise, take the reader to significantly different text . The year accompanying the citation provides a reminder of that reality even though it may be difficult verging on impossible for those working in a contemporary research environment to determine exactly how the cited section read in 1994 or 2014. Neither Lexis (Nimmer & Nimmer) nor Westlaw (Wright & Miller) archive past versions of their treatises online as they do past statutory codifications.

Cite thoughtfully in 2014!

 

 

Statutes – Citation norms that reinforce copyright claims

Monday, October 21st, 2013

The uncertain copyright status of compiled state statutes has long been a factor in the competitive legal information market.  Private publishers have asserted copyright ownership of their own compilations, with and without editorial additions such as annotations.  States have asserted copyright on their own behalf in order to control the terms on which their codified statutes are published and to furnish privileged, if not exclusive status, to an “official” edition.  While the Copyright Act speaks with clarity to the U.S. Code through a provision (17 U.S.C. § 105) that excludes from copyright “any work of the United States Government” no comparable provision speaks to state legal materials.  Rulings that they must be viewed as in the public domain rest on more general principles, arguably of constitutional origin. See, e.g., Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress Int’l, Inc., 293 F.3d 791 (5th Cir. 2002).  A recipe long used to attach proprietary claims to the public material of law has been to surround it with editorial matter – headnotes for judicial opinions, annotations to statutes – and publish the composite with copyright notice and registration.  Such a composite is published for the State of Mississippi in both print and electronic form by LexisNexis under the title, Mississippi Code of 1972, Annotated.  Pursuant to a Mississippi statute the publisher has copyrighted that work on behalf of the state.  Recently, a non-profit dedicated to securing public access to law and other public materials, Public.Resource.Org, placed a digital copy of Mississippi’s code, annotations and all, on the Internet.  The state attorney general’s office demanded their removal.  Public.Resource.Org refused.  A copyright issue of major importance appears to be joined.

A less conspicuous citation question runs in parallel with the copyright issue.  How should a lawyer, judge, or commentator cite to the legislative provisions that frame this case?  The citation guides from which most U.S. law students are taught reinforce Mississippi’s copyright claim by requiring that Mississippi statutes be cited to the “official” Mississippi Code of 1972, Annotated abbreviated “Miss. Code Ann.” if they are to be found within it.  Presumably, the only way to determine whether they are in it is to use that copyrighted version.  If the writer uses the competing “unofficial” compilation prepared by Thomson Reuters and marketed under the West brand, she is instructed to acknowledge that in the cite.  Both guides express a print-era view that statutory citations should not simply furnish a generic formula that will enable a reader to access the text in whatever source she has available but ought to specify the particular source used by the writer, with that source being, if at all possible, the state licensed and copyrighted version.  Whatever rationale this rule had during the era of limited print options has long since evaporated with the proliferation of up-to-date digital compilations.  No matter what the academic manuals say, a lawyer citing a Mississippi statute to a Mississippi judge or a federal one is not compelled by the relevant rules of appellate procedure to indicate whether he found its text on Westlaw, Lexis, Bloomberg Law, or Casemaker (the latter being the legal research service available without charge to all members of the Mississippi Bar).  A judge’s citation may read “Miss. Code Ann.” but that format is the result of habit – very likely a misleading one in view of the probability the judge will in fact have read the cited provision on Westlaw rather than in the licensed code published by LexisNexis.  (Among citations to unpublished decisions by Mississippi appellate judges, the ratio of proprietary “WL” to “LEXIS” citations runs overwhelmingly in Westlaw’s favor.)

Following the widespread contemporary practice of citing statutes in a generic form, let me draw attention to the incredible breadth of the copyright claim asserted in Miss. Code § 1-1-9(2) (added in 1996 as the state prepared the ground for a new publication contract) and the astonishing ownership assertion backed by a stiff fine in Miss. Code § 1-1-9(3) (appended in 1998 but surely preempted by 17 U.S.C. § 301).  Finally, when the successful bidder, LexisNexis, was faced with competition from an “unofficial” code offered to past subscribers for free by the prior holder of the official franchise, Thomson Reuters, the Mississippi legislature passed yet another provision purporting to claim ownership of the code’s (purely descriptive) title.  See Miss. Code § 1-1-8(2).  (For these provisions, I am unable to link to the Lexis site providing free access to an unannotated version of the Mississippi Code because, as the Public.Resource.Org letter notes, it is inhospitable to links.)

It is notable that the letter from the Mississippi Attorney General’s office to Public.Resource.Org neither quotes from nor cites these provisions.  The claim it states is framed far more narrowly.  Moreover, the letter endorses the 8 Principles of Open Government Data. The next step should be for the Mississippi Legislature to bring its code into compliance. No such act is required, however, for judges, lawyers, law students, and others to begin citing Mississippi statutory law using the generic “Miss. Code” rather than the proprietary “Miss. Code Ann.”