I have to admit that I usually think that many of the articles that AALL puts out in its Law Library Journal tend to be too rigid and too academic in style, but the Summer 2011 issue is actually chock full of interesting articles ranging from Ron Wheeler’s Does WestlawNext Really Change Everything? to Gail M. Daily’s tribute to Earl C. Borgeson’s Ten Rules for Law Library Management. However, the article that is near and dear to my heart (and also mentions me a few times) is a joint effort from DALIC (Digital Access to Legal Information Committee) called, Universal Citation and the American Association of Law Libraries: A White Paper. With its introduction by Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice, Yvonne Kauger, this article rehashes the history of the Universal Citation effort in the State Court system of the United States.

As many of you know, I was knee-deep in the movement back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, and I have to say that it was probably the job that I loved the most because we all felt like we were doing something special, and that we were making a difference to the public we served. Although, it also felt good that we were snipping the strings of control that big legal publishers had on the core legal research materials… especially the silliness over Westlaw’s pinpoint citations and their claim that those were copyright protected and that no one could use those without paying a royalty to Westlaw first. I had visions in the late 90’s that every court in the nation would adopt this simple, yet so effective, method of vendor-neutral citation. After all, if a state like Oklahoma could do it, it seemed that any state could. Unfortunately, it seems that something happened in the early 2000’s that caused the movement to fail.

The promise, and subsequent failure is stated eloquently in the White Paper:

¶12 Unfortunately, the wave of citation reform crested in 1998. Courts in Arizona, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, as well as Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, adopted elements of universal citation. However, no jurisdictions, other than Arkansas in 2009 and Illinois in 2011, have moved to do so since the early 1990s. The ABA has regularly reaffirmed its support for universal citation in a resolution, but no other major organization has joined AALL’s efforts with additional support.

While I was moderating a panel at this year’s AALL conference in Philadelphia, all of the emotion that I felt while building a vendor-neutral citation system, and making all of that information available to the members of the Oklahoma Bar, the citizens of Oklahoma, and to anyone else that needed access to the judicial decisions of the State of Oklahoma, came back to me in a rush. There are very few times that those within the legal community can make a true difference in how the public access justice, but this was one of those times. I told the audience that those states that didn’t jump on the band wagon of Universal Citation have let their citizens down, and continue to enable the legal publishing giants to control access to justice. In my opinion, the judicial leaders of those states did not stand up for the people they represent, and have shown a lack of leadership and vision found in the now 18 states that have adopted the system.

I also lashed out somewhat against AALL and its Citation Committee for planting a flag in the early 2000’s, claiming victory, and then moving on to other things. There should have been a major push by the organization to push adoption in other states, especially larger, more affluent states, like California, Texas and New York. I know that those states are difficult to deal with, and tend to not like changing the status quo of their legal systems, but the mission of Universal Citation was not accomplished, and as we can see now, the claim of victory was far too premature.

Can the idea of Universal Citation, free from the grasps of the legal publishers, be resurrected? I have to say that at this point in time, I really don’t know. It takes strong leadership on the state court level; it takes strong advocacy from the ABA, AALL and other organizations to push for reform, and; it will take outside help from the legal publishing community, especially non-Wexis vendors, to step up and help those states willing to take on such reform, just as the (pre-Wolters Kluwer) Loislaw people did for Oklahoma. That’s a lot of ships that have to adjust course in order to change the direction of the Universal Citation movement. It can be done, but it will take a great effort on many parts to breathe life back into such a worthwhile reform.

Read: Universal Citation and the American Association of Law Libraries: A White Paper

NOTE: Also take a look at the new effort from http://www.universalcitation.org — plus, a video of the meeting of this group at Rutgers last month is available at http://camlaw.rutgers.edu/av-request/10711/77aeade1b0