The format, or container, used in delivering the law to both the retail and wholesale user can greatly impact the ability to access the information contained within.

For an example of difficulties with containers and publishing law, let’s look at the PDF.  While PDFs are an open standard, this poses some challenges for both the wholesale and retail user of law.  For the wholesale user, it is very difficult to extract text from the PDF, and in a discipline like law where the very placement of a comma is critical, this is unacceptable.  On the other hand, the PDF locks in the formatting of the document and gives the publisher confidence that the material appears just as it does in the canonical version.

For the retail user, the PDFs can be difficult to search as well as unwieldy to use. For example, the state of Indiana posts archival versions of its code in 1000+ page PDFs.  It took several minutes for a hard wired desktop computer to download the publication.  Considering that many people use mobile devices and data to access the internet, this makes accessing the law contained within these PDFs impossible.

One note: in the following analyses, we look at three types of publishing formats for codes, case law and regulations.  HTML, PDF and “mixed.”  When the graph indicates “mixed” publishing formats, that means that the practices of the state have changed over time.  Generally speaking, the states trend towards the more common publishing choice for that type of law.  So, for example, if they started publishing their code in PDF but they are now publishing in HTML and maintain the archives of that version of code in PDF,  they are marked as “mixed”, since in this study archival material access is just as relevant as current law.

This study found that the trend in publishing codes is the HTML format.  This format is accessible to both the retail and wholesale users of law. Of the fifty-one (51) sites reviewed, thirty six publish the state code in HTML.  Click on image to enlarge.

CodeFormatThe publishing practices in case law were found to be almost the complete opposite.  The great majority of courts publish their decisions in PDF format.  This is likely due to the fact that the decisions are drafted in a word processing software and are then saved and uploaded as PDF.  Of the 105 court websites visited, eighty-eight (88) publish in PDF only.  Click on image to enlarge.

CaseLawFormatFor regulations, the publication choices of the states is rather evenly distributed.  Of the fifty (50) websites viewed, eighteen (18) were in HTML and fourteen (14) were in PDF. Click on image to enlarge.