Extras – Shaping the Future of Legal Information – Bernard E. Witkin Legal Information Symposium 1998

May 16, 1998 Los Angeles Airport Hilton

Donna S. Williams, Law Librarian
California Court of Appeal, Sixth Appellate District

(Archived August 15, 1998)

What is the future of legal information? That’s what a group of 75 librarians, judges, lawyers, and legal publishers tried to answer in a very interesting symposium, honoring Bernard E. Witkin. One idea included overhauling the court system into “subject or specialized” courts. An idea from publishers was to integrating books, floppy disks, CD-ROMs and the Web into a “seamless” product for ease of use. Librarians urged all legal groups not to lose sight of members of the public, who are not technically inclined to deal with the abundance of legal information available. The reigning issue was technology’s role in simplifying legal research, while at the same time, making it very laborious.

The biggest imprint left on my mind was the overwhelming impact the Internet has on legal research in terms of accuracy, credibility and authority of information. We as a society want information immediately. Are we willing to compromise validity for instantaneous answers that may not be reliable? As professional librarians and directors of information have been dealing with these type of issues for years, it was wonderful to see the rest of the legal community coming together to discuss such important concerns. Ever since Lexis, Westlaw, Dialog, and the many other online databases made their debut in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we have known the specifications and limitations of each database. However, the Internet is much more complicated, almost out of control, in terms of verifying any type of information. Technology has many wonderful benefits, but the question is, how are we going to use them.

The following is an overview of what each speaker presented. I look forward to seeing how some of these issues are accomplished. I am honored I had the opportunity to attend this ground braking symposium and am eager to see what lies ahead. The future of legal information is a very exciting topic. I think it will be forever changing!

Introduction & Video: “Five Minutes with Bernie Witkin”

Alba Witkin; Justice George Nicholson, California Court of Appeal, 3rd District; Dr. Kevin Starr, State Librarian of California.

The video was a wonderful overview of Bernie Witkin’s life. The speakers all gave tributes and views on Bernie and the profound impact he had on California law.

Civil Justice in the Information Age

Ms. Roberta Katz, Sr. VP and General Counsel, Netscape.

Technological changes are forcing us to rethink our social structure. Technology is changing business as we know it, and we, as a society, are rethinking our structure. As a result, schools are changing to meet those needs. We have flexible work schedules, when it used to be that work was based on the factory hours of 9 to 5. We are just now starting to look beyond the norm and change with the times.

Just as society is changing, our legal system needs to change and adapt. We have laws and the legal system to protect our values and beliefs as a society. These laws reflect precedence from the past then apply it to the present and the future. However, the system is deteriorating and so is public confidence.

Currently, we have an adversary system. Parties speak to a jurist directly. The jurists, societies representatives, are passive and neutral. The system operates by a set of rules to get information from parties involved in lawsuits, (e.g. depositions, interrogatories, cross examination). It boils down to information being at the heart of the adversary system. Are we overlooking the fact that maybe there is too much information and it is too complicated? Just as a lack of information is harmful to the system, is too much information harmful? Just because we have computers and word processing doesn’t mean we have to have more information. Expert witnesses are now common place in lawsuits. Years ago they were used to explain difficult materials; now, we have feuding experts who can’t agreed on their own area of expertise. This only leads to juror bias, not to justice.

Ms. Katz suggests we create “subject matter” courts or “specialized, core” courts. Jurists would have special training and knowledge in certain areas. We need to adapt the court system to reality. Lawyers should problem solve. We need to participate in the change of the system and welcome legal reform. Ms. Katz addresses this topic in detail in her book, “Justice Matters: Rescuing the Legal System for the 21st Century.” Discover Institute, Seattle, WA (http://www.discovery.org).

Legal Information Publishing: Prospects, Developments & Effects / Panel Discussion

Ms. Donna Bergsgaard, Sr. Publishing Advisor, West Group; Mr. Gene McGovern, VP, Matthew Bender; Mrs. Frances Jones, Witkin State Law Librarian.

Ms. Bergsgaard gave us insight into the way the West Group deals with legal information. They believe the key to effective publishing is to publish simple and understandable material. They use a market center approach which creates regional products, as well as more specialized products. They are looking at the integration of other tools for litigation support, billing, etc. West Group is also investigating the area of distance learning.

Mr. McGovern addressed the merger of Matthew Bender with Reed-Elsevier and explained that it will actually extend the vision of Matthew Bender by integrating tools for the legal community. Their goal is to achieve operating efficiency by linking print, electronic, CD-ROM and Internet mediums together. Matthew Bender is working on three developments currently:

  1. Portable information to help improve telecommuting.
  2. SGML or Standard Generalized Marketing Language which codes text.
  3. Interactive Drafting Systems which combines several different kinds of systems (e.g. calculator, word processing, etc.).

Finally, Mr. McGovern opined that publishers Web pages may be “standard” and all publishers may be moving toward commonality.

Fran Jones detailed statistics from County Law Libraries where out of 800,000 inquiries received; 46 percent of users used secondary sources and 67 percent of users entering the law library needed some type of staff assistance. Keeping these statistics in mind, Ms. Jones addressed concern over moving toward digital information. Many users are not tech savvy and do not understand the legal language and laws. We need to make legal information accessible to everyone. She encouraged publishers to look not just to legal scholars when publishing treatises, but toward everyone.

Luncheon Keynote Address: Access to Information in the Courts

Chief Justice Ronald M. George, California Supreme Court

Chief Justice George addressed the state of the entire judicial branch. He acquired first-hand knowledge by actually visiting all 58 counties in the state, as well as, the six district Courts of Appeal. The state is looking at improving access to court information and working with the public to deal with some of the important questions like trial court consolidation and court security. He is working with all the branches of government to make sure needs are met on every level.

During the break I had the pleasure of asking Chief Justice George what he thought about all the changes in libraries. He said that he thought librarians were the most up-to-date people on technology and were well suited for dealing with changes.

New Concepts & Strategies in Legal Research

Hon. Thomas Cecil, Presiding Judge, Sacramento Superior & Municipal Courts; Professor Robert Berring, Director, Law Library, Boalt Hall, UC Berkeley; Mr. John Hanft, Director, Witkin Legal Institute, West Group.

Judge Cecil reviewed accomplishments of the State Court Technology Committee with regards to legal research. The committee is trying to provide public access to electronic records in the court system. They are adopting functional standards and want to set up a fund for legal research and legal research technology. Judge Cecil stated the fact that the Internet is not always reliable or accurate. He is concerned that “experts” or artificial intelligence will erode primary research. There is also a state task force that is checking into revising jury instructions. Finally, he expressed how we need to learn to cooperate with other branches of government.

Mr. Hanft addressed problems with using the Internet for legal research. There is such an abundance of data that many times it is disorganized and cannot be verified as citing sources. The accessibility of data and changing addresses make it difficult to cite to. The validity of data is controlled more in the print world where we look at the reputation of the author, while in Internet research it is often arduous to do so. We need to look at the performance of the data and keep sight of our peripheral vision. Modern legal research relies on secondary sources. Researchers need help from legal experts who organize, analyze, index, and create tables. We have a map, but not an itinerary for research. We need to systematically select valid secondary sources and be careful about the validity of all information used from all mediums.

Bob Berring related legal research to the play, the game, and the rules. The play is the information and generation gap. We must address the needs of all of our users from book users to online users. The game is redefining “real” information. We look to two major legal publishers and dozens of smaller ones. Now we have to deal with individual web sites. The rules need to be changed to incorporate the new generation. Mr. Berring observed that research will have to be fast, easy and seamless because they seem to have no tolerance for waiting to check accuracy, authority, or reliability of information. We need to define new standards, develop new authority structures and fight for the integrity of legal information. Overall, it is a very exciting time for the entire legal profession.

The Law Library Re-Defined: Access, Location and Use of Collected Legal Information in the Predictable Future

Mr. Bill Fenwick, Fenwick & West; Professor James Hoover, Associate Dean & Director, Law Library, Columbia University Law School; Mr. Clif Purkiser, Intel Corp.

Mr. Fenwick noted that librarians used to do research by finding “containers” of information, (e.g., books, but this is no longer the tradition). Librarians are converging with the Information Systems (IS) departments, dealing with CD-ROMs, online access, and using email to receive and send research. “Information Directors” are emerging and maintaining a mix of formats, as well as, synthesizing information, dealing with the Internet, contract negotiations, administration, and economic factors. It is a fast changing environment.

Mr. Purkiser addressed a few Internet trends: Internet growth was up 800 percent between 1993 and 1997; there are now over 70 million users; and over 30 percent of the adult population access the Internet. It is fast becoming the primary research tool for a large amount of Americans and since information is so easily accessible, it is setting standards for other sources of information. A major implication is that quality is NOT as important to some people, as access and speed. Mr. Purkiser sees trends in information analyses such as: “Intelligent Agents”; a richer media that incorporates text, graphics, audio and video; and collaboration tools like proshare conferencing for conducting meetings.

Professor Hoover stressed that we need to address the issue of web accuracy. He feels the government should be providers of information to assure that a high level of accuracy is maintained. He foresees law journals being challenged since many scholars will not want to wait a year to be published in print. They could put the information on the web and provide discussions immediately. He is concerned that we will loose our caliber of authors because now it is difficult to publish a book without constantly updating and revising it. This may not happen with web publications, making it easier to publish, but not as accurate as a book. Overall, libraries are ubiquitous, service oriented and the flow of information is its core function. Libraries are getting recognition in their organizations that change is necessary. Every year we all need to retool and libraries are here to help us achieve that goal.

Closing Address: The Witkin Legacy in the 21st Century

Justice Ming Chin, Associate Justice, California Supreme Court

Justice Chin reiterated the wonderful achievements of Bernie Witkin, with whom he had the pleasure of knowing personally. He encouraged us to follow the Witkin legacy. Bernie didn’t fear the future, he embraced it!

Posted in: Extras, Legal Research