First off, I’m going to come out and say that I think that what the Illinois Supreme Court officially adopting a vendor-neutral citation system is a great thing. In fact, EVERY STATE COURT should adopt a vendor-neutral citation system that allows everyone to access new decisions immediately, and with the ability to have an instant and authoritative method of citing to those decisions. Now, with that out of the way… let me make a couple of suggestions to that same court about some things it really needs to re-evaluate when it comes to a Uniform Citation System. (See the PDF press release… of course, even the press release is in PDF format… see #3 below on this one.)

  1. Go buy and read this book: Universal Citation Guide 2nd Edition
    This will be an invaluable guide to see what type of citations actually make sense and why states should at least attempt to be consistent when they decide to adopt a vendor-neutral citation system. I know that Christopher Bonjean’s post in Illinois Lawyer Now mentions the 1994 AALL edition and the 1995 ABA endorsement  but I’m thinking that someone got a little “fast and loose” with the guidelines when the final format came out from the Illinois court.
  2. Dump the “Year” + IL + “Docket Number” and go with a more standard “Year” + IL + “Decision Sequence Number”. Although the chances may be slim to none, there is a possibility that you could end up with to cases being decided that have the same docket number (because they came up through the court in different years.) Perhaps the Illinois docketing rules are different, but I’m still a big fan of the sequential numbering system over the Docket Number.
  3. Drop the PDF-Only Formatting. Putting the official release in PDF format just means that you’re giving up one proprietary format (Westlaw & Lexis citations) and adopting another. I know that Judges love PDF formatting, but many Judges would still be using WordPerfect 4.1 if they thought they could get away with it (anyone want to be me that there are still some Judges out there that secretly type up their documents in WP 4.1?? I’m thinking there actually may still be a few out there.) – See Elmer Masters’ blog if you need a second opinion on the PDF-Only issue.
  4. Put the documents out on the web, and make them searchable. It’s not like I’m asking for you to create an iPad App. You used to have a website that contained your decisions… time to fire that baby back up!
  5. Look at the Oklahoma Supreme Court as an example. Now, here I’m a little biased because I worked for the Oklahoma Supreme Court on their OSCN.NET project, and I still think they have the best example of what a state court can do to really adopt a vendor-neutral citation system and create a platform to serve the public. 
I was joking around on Twitter about the things that I found to be “silly” when it came to Illinois’ decision to go with their citation and PDF formatted decisions. But in all honesty, I’m really glad that the Illinois Supreme Court has taken a step in the right direction when it comes to breaking the hold of the proprietary citation systems. I really hope that the court can look at this list of five suggestions and really consider tackling a few of them before they get too far down the road and can’t turn around.
  • Though PDF was originally Adobe's baby, nowadays it's an official ISO standard (ISO 32000-1:2008).

  • It may be a standard…but it is awful when you try to anything to bring the text out of it and into somethiing else… like a brief.

  • Anonymous

    There's no "Paragraph" symbol on the keyboard so for every cite you have to go to the toolbar for an insert symbol icon. Not good planning. Also, how does one shepardize these cases?

  • @Anonymous The paragraph symbol can easily be incorporated into a keyboard shortcut in Microsoft Word (and I believe in Windows as a whole). For one example of how to do it, visit the following address:

  • Anonymous

    The paragraph symbol can also be inserted with Alt+20 (using the number keypad, not the keyboard itself). Easy, breezy.

  • Anonymous

    Take a look at most State court decisions, uh, including US Supreme Court decisions. What format is that…oh, it's PDF.
    You can copy text from a PDF and insert it into any word processor.
    People are never satisfied.

  • I'd argue that PDF's are horrible to copy and paste from. Go ahead, try it… then spend the next few minutes fixing all the erratic line breaks and characters that you can't format.

    As far as never being satisfied… guilty as charged. I guess I should have been satisfied the minute I could OCR a case from a State Reporter. PDF is a good format, but there are better formats out there, and Illinois is still early enough in the process to think about better ways to disseminate their information. If we hold the US Supreme Court up as the example state courts should use, then we are selling ourselves short on the possibility of what opportunities we can get from open government.

  • Anonymous

    In a perfect world, Universal Citation Guide would be great to follow. Unfortunately, there were some assumptions made with the "decision sequence number" that do not work for every court's system, leaving your choices as don't implement UCG's stated vendor-neutral format or implement with a similar format that works for your court.
    Also PDF documents are searchable online just like an HTML, Word or WordPerfect document online is searchable.
    Since suggestions come from individual who worked for another State court, set up totally different and running systems totally different from IL, whose State obviously received plenty of $$$ budgeted to implement a statewide network project, I'm taking much of this with a grain of salt…

  • That state was Oklahoma, not exactly known for its cutting edge thinking on gov't projects… and that $$$ budget was more like $. Plus that "state-wide" project was for the Dockets, not for the universal citation system.

    You mean that Illinois can't meet the bar set by a state a 1/4 its size, on a product build over a decade ago?

    Here's a salt shaker for you, while you think of more reasons I should just be satisfied with the status quo.

  • John

    Couldn't any version of Microsoft Word satisfy those who favor pdf formatting? I know from an individual user that you can save a document in word (.doc) and then easily publish it as a pdf with a simple click! 2 birds, 1 stone- right? Plenty of websites offer .doc and .pdf downloadable links side by side.