Federal Courts,  Legal Writing

Blogs First – Wikis Next?

Its old news that courts have cited blogs in their opinions.  A compilation of such opinions is posted here by Law Blog Metrics.  That list is more than nine months old and lists citations to 27 cases citing blogs a total of 32 times. (I’m having trouble finding anything more recent.  If anyone knows of a more current compilation, email the link to me me and I will post it.)

Citations to blogs should not be too surprising.  Most are, after all, commentary.  While not as formal or thorough as a law review article (to put it mildly), the principle behind citing a blog is not, to my mind, much different than citing a law review article, at least where the blog is well-reasoned.

Is similar treatment in store for the legal wiki?  A wiki is different from a blog because virtually anyone (though that can be restricted by registration) can edit, add, or remove content, often anonymously — as anonymously as the Internet allows, anyway.

Before we get to legal wikis, it is worth noting that the grandaddy of all wikis, Wikipedia — an online encyclopedia produced by wiki-type editing — appeared to be gaining traction in court opinions, law reviews, and legal blogs as long as a year ago, according to this paper published at the Columbia University website.  Still, the paper’s author Patrick Ferguson notes, healthy skepticism remained at the time of his writing:

Wiki skepticism is not only the product of a citation-obsessed legal culture.  Professors in all disciplines are highly critical of their student’s citations to Wiki definitions. However, this criticism is often directed at students who rely solely on Wiki for information rather than as a starting point for research. A free, widely accessible encyclopedia is a great place to start research and with 2.5 billion page views per day, a tremendously important asset to our culture. While Wiki articles may contain errors, they are often the best easily-findable source on the web for technical definitions. Interestingly, a study by Nature found that Wikipedia has only marginally-higher error rates than Encyclopedia Britannica.  (Footnotes omitted.)

Despite being a year old, the paper is a pretty good starting point for anyone interested in the future of wikis and the law.

Interested readers should turn next to this article by Massachussetts lawyer Robert Ambrogi (who also blogs about legal websites at Robert Ambrogi’s Lawsites), which provides some great examples of legal wiki successes and links to several active legal wikis.

Next, listen to this recent podcast of Lawyer 2 Lawyer hosted by Ambrogi and California attorney J. Craig Williams, who blogs at May it Please the Court.  They provide a list of their guests in this post, which should convince you it’s worth your time to listen (it’s slightly over a half hour long) if you are interested in keeping up with technology’s impact on the law.  Some teasers from the podcast . . . Asked: Is it possible that wikis could eventually put Lexis and Westlaw out of business?  Predicted: within 12 months, most “major organizations” will be using a wiki in “one form or another.”

In this post, Ambrogi notes the launch of the Seventh Circuit’s wiki, with a subscription-only link to an article in the National Law Journal.  Ambrogi notes this is a first for the federal judiciary.  (I actually learned about Ambrogi’s post from this funny post — follow the link to “The Plig” for a laugh — at the Appellate Law & Practice blog.)

The Seventh Circuit’s wiki is hosted by a federal court and allows editing only by registered users.  Will that give it a credibility edge that leads to it being cited in opinions?  It should at least be useful much as a treatise or encyclopedia is — as an initial resource to lead the reader to authoritative law.  But the Seventh Circuit wiki also includes a (currently blank) current events page.  If that page strays from straight news to opinion, it may generate leading edge commentary that could find its way into published court opinions.

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