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.