As the law moves inexorably to a digital publication model in which books no longer play a role, the problem of how to continue to make the law available to all becomes more acute. Open access initiatives already exist, and more are on the way, but all are limited by their inability to provide more than self-indexed search options for their users. Self-indexing, although a powerful alternative to the traditional pre-indexed searching made possible by systems like West’s “Key Number” digests, has inherent limitations which make it a poor choice as the sole means of researching the law. But developing a new pre-indexed legal digest would be a prohibitively expensive and complex undertaking, making it unlikely that open access legal information sites can develop and maintain a fully-implemented digesting approach to legal research. This article proposes a reconceptualization of the information already contained within most American judicial opinions in order to permit open access sites to offer a form of pre-indexed research to their users. By mapping a case’s location in a graphical representation of the doctrinal development of an issue under consideration, this approach allows the court’s citations to prior authority to act as a pre-indexing tool, allows the researcher to update the law by showing more recent cases that have cited to the target case, and gives the researcher the opportunity to trace network links in order to uncover connections between cases that might otherwise have been difficult to discern.
Gallacher, Ian, "Mapping the Social Life of the Law: An Alternative Approach to Legal Research" (2007). College of Law Faculty Scholarship. 4.