This is a time of crisis on many fronts.
First of all, the United States is facing an access to justice crisis in its legal system. A 2005 study by the Legal Services Corporation showed that 80% of the civil legal needs – legal needs in which there is no constitutionally guaranteed right to an attorney – in the United States are going unmet. The United States ranks 66th out of 98 countries in a ranking of access and affordability of civil legal services. Individuals are relying on self-help resources, either provided by a library or the web.
There exists in poverty studies a term called a “food desert“, often seen in rural or inner city areas, where the availability and affordability of fresh food is non-existent. In a similar vein, a goal of this study was to see if there were “information deserts” where individuals seeking to perform legal self help via state provided legal information websites could do so.
Secondly, due to the relative ease of web-based publishing, states are increasingly making the Internet the primary place of publication for their legal information materials. In response to this, the Uniform Law Commission drafted the Uniform Electronic Legal Materials Act (UELMA). This act requires states to ensure that their official legal publications on the web are authentic and preserved. In the past two years, 12 states have adopted UELMA, albeit somewhat unevenly. Of the 12, only 5 states include court appellate decisions in the requirements for their version of UELMA. As more states are considering UELMA, it was thought that it would be useful to take a “state of states” snapshot to see where things stand in a pre-UELMA world.