Traditionally, a key indicator of the quality and the utility of any case citator is the breadth and depth of its coverage. The better citators purport to cover all of the cases reported in print. Law reports published by a competitor are included as a matter of course, both as an original reference and as a correlative or parallel citation.
Online databases and “electronic citations” have not been treated in the same manner. Initially electronic citations were not seen as “legitimate” citations and were considered to be unworthy of the same attention as print citations. Case citators ignored them. There was a belief that any case important enough to be included in a case citator would ultimately be published in print.
More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that online service providers were perceived as emerging competitors to the print publishers. It was thought that including electronic citations in case citators would help the online competitor establish itself in the legal market to the detriment of the print publishers. No helping hand was to be given to make that come about any sooner than was absolutely necessary.
This approach ultimately proved to be unrealistic. As the use of online services spread and as more and more cases included electronic citations, the usefulness of the “print only” citators declined. The turning point came when Quicklaw acquired its own case citator and included both print and QL citations in Quickcite. Reluctantly, publishers started to include electronic citations in case citators, albeit in an incomplete and half-hearted way.
Print and electronic citations are still not treated equally
We are now at the stage where all citators include both print and electronic citations. However, print and electronic citations are still not treated equally. All citators include the publisher’s own electronic citations. They also include references to a competitor’s electronic citations when they appear in the original judgment being reviewed by editorial staff for the purpose of updating the publisher’s own case citator. However, no publisher systematically ensures that all of its competitors’ electronic citations are included in its case citator, either as an original citation or as a parallel or correlative citation.
There are several reasons for this. The first and most important is cost. Additional editorial resources would be required to process all of the data. Access would have to be given to each other’s databases at a reasonable price. At the present time, when legal publishers are actively seeking ways to reduce costs, a corporate decision to add editorial staff to enrich a case citator is unlikely. The situation is made even more difficult by the fact that no additional short term revenue would result from such a change. Like most online product enhancements, customers expect to get them but not to pay more.
Marketing considerations also play a critical role. If all of the electronic citations are included from every publisher, there will no longer be any mystery as to the scope of the databases of the competing online services. It will be clear that everyone has every case, or at least every recent case. Any missing case in any database would be quickly identified and added to the appropriate collection. The psychological need of researchers to check competing databases to ensure that no cases have been missed will be gone and overall online searching might be reduced as researchers opt to use only one service.
The first publisher to offer comprehensive parallel or correlative electronic citations would indeed have a commercial advantage. Such a citator could reasonably claim to be comprehensive and more useful to researchers – the only case citator you really need. As well, the publisher would be able to demonstrate that it had all of the cases. Of course, the advantage would be only temporary if the competitors responded in kind. Given current economic conditions, however, neither scenario is likely to happen.
A better option might be if the publishers of case citators collaborated with a third party who would gather and distribute parallel or correlative electronic citations to all of the publishers. Outsourcing is all the rage in publishing circles. Collaborative outsourcing hasn’t yet been tried in legal publishing and may be suitable for for many different kinds of databases as well as for electronic citations. While collaborative outsourcing would result in the selected areas becoming “non competing” features of their online services, the costs of the enhancement would be shared and the quality and utility of the citators would be dramatically improved. This is an option that might make everyone happy.