Links to nowhere: 404 Errors

The December 2013 issue of the A.B.A. Journal has an interesting report on the “subtle scourge of link rot.” According to the author, L. Ray Jackson, internet hyperlinks which ultimately lead to unavailable webpages (or nowhere) plague the internet in the form of “link rot.”Jackson opines broken links are not only frustrating, but create an underlying concern he calls “reference rot.” Reference rot is when the link exists but the referenced information is no longer present, especially problematic for practicing lawyers to locate legal precedent.

The article cites a study co-authored by the chief information officer at the John Marshall Law School of Chicago that found nearly one-third of the websites cited by the U.S. Supreme Court were dead links. Mostly to government or educational domains. Another similar study by Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain reports the number of obsolete links was as much as fifty percent. While some are crying link rot is destroying stare decisis as we know it, others are advising tactics to prevent link rot. Such as downloading reference material to be attached to court submissions.

Admittedly, I have mixed feelings about link rot. Having written law review articles relying on news reports from the internet, I have experienced the “scourge” of link rot first hand. I will say, however,┬ámany of the links in my paper were not reference material or used for citing legal authority. In fact, relying heavily on authority which only exists on the internet just doesn’t fit well with me. Whenever possible, print out your authoritative sources and site it appropriately. In Louisiana, if the courts cannot easily access the reference material it may order the lawyer to furnish hard copies. Since Louisiana has a strict page limitation, it is probably best to retain the copies indefinitely.


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