Introduction

Courts and their Reporters of Decisions have worked throughout U.S. history to ensure public access to their opinions. While the methods of ensuring public access to law have evolved over the years, courts’ commitment to publicly disseminating their opinions has never wavered. Today courts are planning actively to move away from print-first publishing practices and toward digital-first publishing that will enable universally free public access to the law online.

High-level goals

To enable this critical transition, courts should seek and adopt digital-first publishing solutions that would make all of their new opinions freely and openly accessible online in an authoritative, citable, machine-readable format.

These solutions should prioritize court convenience, high quality public access, reliability, cost effectiveness and comprehensiveness. And they should offer the courts at least three things:

  • Self-publishing tools – Easy-to-use, high quality, cost effective self-publishing tools adapted to the existing editorial workflow of the court.
  • Public access website – A public website affording free, open access to newly issued court opinions in HTML and PDF, with vendor-neutral and medium-neutral citation. The website should provide customizable metadata fields, a search engine suited to legal information, an API to enable programmatic access and bulk downloads and Web accessibility compliance for users with disabilities.
  • Professional support and service – An experienced support and service team dedicated to helping courts fulfill their publishing and access goals.

These solutions should be available as software-as-a-service requiring no IT infrastructure from the court. Pricing should be flexible and affordable, and overall cost should be significantly lower than the cost of producing print volumes of case reports.

CAP Digital-First Guidelines

Our RFP guidelines page lists essential and desirable characteristics for any digital-first case publishing solution.

Historical cases

When courts make this transition to digital-first publishing for new opinions, the Harvard Law School Library will provide and make publicly available a free, open collection of historical opinions (as scanned images and as OCR-generated text) published in all official reports prior to 2019.  

Case studies

Solutions meeting the essential guidelines are in place already in many courts, including:

Participating Vendors

We are happy to highlight vendors committed to working with courts to offer digital-first publishing solutions that meet these criteria. Vendors making this commitment include:

Please contact us if you know of other vendors who have demonstrated their willingness to help courts transition to digital-first publishing.