In the article, “Trial by Internet: A Randomized Field Experiment on Wikipedia’s Influence on Judges’ Legal Reasoning”, the authors Neil Thompson et al conducted a study to see if Wikipedia plays a part in judgment writing. The authors found that “the information and legal analysis offered on Wikipedia led judges to cite the relevant legal cases more often and to talk about them in ways comparable to how the Wikipedia authors had framed them”.
The study was conducted by creating 154 Wikipedia articles on Irish Supreme Court cases. “The process of creation was done in three waves. After each wave, a random half of the articles were added to Wikipedia and the other half held back. The first wave, in early 2019 … wrote Wikipedia articles on 14 cases. In the second wave, in Spring 2019, undergraduate law students from Maynooth University created 8 articles… In the third wave, in Fall 2019, a cohort of graduate students wrote 132 articles as part of a professional development seminar. These were published in early 2020”.
Of the 154 Wikipedia articles that were created for this experiment, 77 articles were uploaded to Wikipedia. “Overall, we find that the addition of a Wikipedia article increases the number of citations received by that case by 0.064 per month.”
The authors note that their study shows a need for “easily accessible source of knowledge that is also authoritative”. Judges face large dockets, time pressures, and loads of material to read. There is a risk of Wikipedia being used by judges (or maybe their clerks) as a source of information. To mitigate this, we need a more authoritative legal source that is based on carefully considered expertise.