From the just-received Volume 2010, Issue 1, Spring University of Illinois Journal of Law, Technology & Policy, at page 51:
The Cost of Judicial Citation: An Empirical Investigation of Citation Practices in the Federal Appellate Courts
by Casey R. Fronk
Since the early 1960s, computerized legal research technology has enabled judges and their law clerks to access legal information quickly and comprehensively. Particularly for appellate judges, who rely on wide-ranging legal research when writing opinions, this technological change has had special resonance. This Article attempts to quantify the effects of computer- assisted legal research on the federal judiciary by empirically analyzing citation patterns over the past fifty years. The results of this analysis suggest that the digitization of legal research has had statistically significant effects on the amount and style of citation in judicial opinions. Although the average number of cases cited in opinions has doubled between 1957 and 2007, the number of cases cited only in string citations has decreased by nearly the same percentage. This Article argues that such results can be explained by a basic economic theory of judicial citation in which judges respond to the decreasing cost of opinion production by discarding string citation for more effective communicative techniques.
This Article proposes that a simple microeconomic approach can describe judicial citation practices over the last fifty years. It provides empirical evidence that judges use citations in part as a communication device, and that the cost of legal research is intimately connected with the effectiveness of this communication (and therefore with judicial citation patterns). The empirical results in this Article not only demonstrate the effectiveness of the microeconomic approach in describing judicial opinion style, but also provide a foundation for future research into the effects of judicial ideology on citation practices.