Wiki-infested Appellate Briefs

As an adjunct law professor teaching a writing seminar, I’ve come face-to-face with the horrible realization that law students are now directly citing to the internet to support their propositions. They aren’t citing to primary sources on the internet, either — they’re citing to various partisan organizations’ interpretations of case law, of historical fact, and so on. That is, they’re committing the cardinal sin of briefwriting and law article-writing — they’re not interpreting the cases and facts themselves.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, then a colleague of mine today showed me an opinion from our court of appeals where the judge writing the majority opinion cited to a website’s entirely third-party reporting/analysis as proof of facts supporting his opinion’s analysis.

Now it’s infested the field: Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Commissioner, No. 06-60276 (5th Cir. 10 April 2007) cites Wikipedia for a definition of the term of art “accrual.”

For you tax lawyers out there, isn’t there a Revenue Ruling, section of the I.R.C., or other reputable source that would be a better citation than Wikipedia?

When judges’ opinions become infested with citations to dubious websites, I worry. Wikipedia may even be, and likely is, many steps above the rest. Nonetheless, at base it’s a community resource, uncontrolled and certainly bereft of the benefits that the tax lawyer community has, namely expertise and knowledge of the law. As such, citing it for definitions for any terms that have legal effect, especially here where the parties have money on the line (and think of instances where defendants/appellants have their lives on the line), it’s inexcusable.

More to come on this, because my sense is this is a growing problem for the legal community esp. with the ever-increasing ubiquity of internet access and widespread “information.” Anyone else have any war stories/practical experience/advice on this, or even disagree entirely that this is a problem that needs to be addressed?



1 Comment

Filed under Appellate Law, Law

One response to “Wiki-infested Appellate Briefs

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