A Matter of Trust: Why the Time is Right to Adopt the Uniform Electronic Legal Materials Act (UELMA) in Florida

By Patricia Morgan, Published on October 25, 2015

Link to the full article: http://www.llrx.com/features/time-is-right-to-adopt-uniform-electronic-legal-materials-act-in-florida.htm

In an era where cost-cutting has become increasingly important, there already exists an untapped resource related to legal research. More and more resources exist online (some exclusively). It has been a long time since the introduction of the Internet, but it is finally going to prove instrumental in reducing the cost of legal research. Legal research is expensive; some of it doesn’t have to be, because several resources are available online for free. Many lawyers (this one included) can probably still remember the days before computers, when legal research was conducted using only books. With the introduction of LexisNexis and Westlaw followed by personal computers, lawyers began doing research electronically.

Although one could find cases online and print them, courts would often not accept these versions and required photocopies of the cases published in case reporters. Over time, the legal community became accustomed to online research and accepted cases, annotated statutes, and regulations retrieved electronically via Westlaw and LexisNexis.

As often happens, government publications have trailed private industry in innovations. The United States government has led the way, domestically, in publishing legal materials electronically. Take a look at a recent example of an entry from the Federal Register online.1 Notice the seal in the upper-left-hand corner: that is the verification that the content is authentic and unadulterated.2

With the knowledge that electronic publication can be done well, the question is why not do the same for state materials? Electronic research is better in many ways:

  • Electronic publishing is faster.
  • Electronic publishing is cheaper – the government will realize big cost savings.
  • Electronic publishing makes the material accessible for everyone.

So, why hasn’t the move to electronic materials happened sooner? Much like the conversion of case law research a couple of decades ago, there are inherent trust issues. It is great to find materials online, especially when they are free and easy to access. How do you know, however, if the material is accurate and unaltered?

It is time to come to terms with the fact that most legal material should be readily available electronically and that there must be a way to verify that the material is authentic.