LII Backgrounder: State Law on the Net
The LII summer editorial group has recently completed our annual review and update of state legal materials accessible on the Net from non-fee sites. (For the results visit the LII's state pages.)
As of Sept. 1, 1999 the statutes of all states but Louisiana are accessible and among state top appellate courts only the Connecticut Supreme Court remains offline. But a year ago the statutes of ten states and recent decisions of the top appellate courts of a slightly smaller number were not to be found on the Internet. That itself represented extraordinary progress, for in June 1995 only ten states had their statutes on the Internet.
In a short span of years the question has shifted from "whether" to "how well".
We decided this year to apply a few simple criteria to state law sites and generate a short list of exemplars. Here is the LII's state law Honor Roll as of Sept. 1999. Because we hold the view that the distribution of law in a widely usable format is a public function we limit this Honor Roll to public sites. We exclude non-profit intermediaries like ourselves on this ground and commercial sites as well, no matter how close their relationship to the public body.
Important qualities these sites share are the following:
Key features these sites share are:
PDF format is useful for delivering forms and other materials where a consistent rendition in print is important. Since it does not carry nor permit the addition of hypertext links to referenced documents, it cannot compete with HTML as a way of providing computer-based navigation through a set of legal materials, appellate decisions or statutes. Appellate decisions cite prior ones and statutes. With HTML those cites can be links offering direct access to the cited material. Some of these honor roll sites offer a PDF option. None of them offer PDF exclusively.
Our review of state materials has, we think, been thorough; but there remains a possibility we may have overlooked a state site meeting our criteria as of Sept. 1, 1999. Let us know if we have and we'll amend this honor roll. And we trust that by Sept. 1, 2000 there will be more.