Robert C. Berring,
On not throwing out the baby: planning the future of legal information, 83
Cal. L. Rev.
Available at: http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/facpubs/1954
Legal information is undergoing a radical transformation. New information systems and formats appear regularly, and multinational conglomerates are becoming key players in the marketplace. In the midst of these developments, individuals and interest groups advocate fundamental changes to the way legal information is currently distributed and cited. One proposal, predicated on the notion that the law is a public good, is that the government should compile and distribute legal information to the public at low cost. According to this rationale, the government should replace private publishers as the primary distributor of legal information. Other commentators suggest modifying the citation system currently used to identify cases. At present, many courts require citation to a particular set of printed cases. Critics argue that this system gives official reporters and the West Publishing Company an unfair advantage over competitors. In response, some commentators propose a system of citation that does not refer to the products of specific vendors. This Essay argues that radical reformation is premature and would interfere with the normal operation of the market for legal information. The author suggests that, despite its limitations, the market rewards innovation, accuracy, and cost-effectiveness. As a result, the current system enables low-tech users to find information cheaply and quickly. The author suggests that attempts to prematurely dismantle the existing infrastructure should not be taken lightly; the public has a strong interest in reliable and accessible legal information. The Essay concludes that market forces, rather than governmental fiat, should dictate changes in the legal information system.