The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) recently announced that its professional publication, Law Library Journal, would begin adopting universal citation formats in its articles. This decision will be applied to both citations within articles as well as the creation of universal citations for the articles published by the journal itself. This action was taken by AALL as a sign of its further commitment to creating for legal literature, a citation system that is not based on medium or vendor. Last summer, AALL published its Universal Citation Guide (UCG), which was written by the association’s Committee on Citation Formats, currently co-chaired by Paul George, Associate Librarian for Research Services at the Harvard Law School Library.

In publishing the UCG, the Committee noted that the citation is the lynchpin to the legal system. The exchange of information about the law and access to legal information is based upon accurate citations that indicate where the source can be found as well as how current it is. As the legal systems developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, citations became dependent on both the format and the publisher. A citation would indicate not only the court and jurisdiction for a case, but also the publisher and the format. This would force the user of a citation to consult the same source, regardless of the availability of other sources for the same information.

The explosion of the availability of electronic publishing on the Internet, the disputes over the copyright status of private publishers’ pagination of government information, and a new competition between nonprofit electronic publishers of legal information and the traditional private publishers has brought the citation problem to the forefront. Access to information has expanded dramatically, thanks in part to the U.S. Government’s posting on Web sites information that previously was available only in limited paper formats. Often these electronic resources do not contain the citation elements required by the traditional citation rules. For example, the traditional rule for citing a federal appellate court case requires a citation such as 76 F3d 1283. This citation contains a volume and page number from a publication of a particular private publisher, West Group. Now, however, the same case is available on several Web sites—although without any of these citation elements.

The UCG is the result of several years of work, drafts, and comment periods. The AALL Citation Format Committee has proposed rules, giving guidance to publishers and users of legal information who want to make information accessible regardless of whether it is published in paper or electronic formats. For example, case citations should be based on the year of decision, sequentially assigned numbers for the decision, and paragraph numbers for citations within a case.

The current edition of the UCG presents rules for citing cases, statutory materials, and regulations. Draft rules for citing law review articles, administrative decisions, and court rules will be published in an upcoming edition of Law Library Journal. The Committee is comprised of law librarians from law schools, courts, and law firms, and portions of the rules have been adopted in several states. Additional information about the Committee and the UCG is available on the Committee Web site ( citation/).

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