50 Percent of URL Citations in Supreme Court Cases are 'Rotted,' Harvard Researchers Say

Whether you're a Con Law student prepping for your next paper or a 1L cramming for Civil Procedure, be careful while you research—your materials might very well be rotting away.

According to a recent study by Harvard Law School professor Jonathan L. Zittrain '95 and J.D. candidate at the Law School Kendra K. Albert, many of the online citations in prominent legal publications do not lead to the intended information, while some no longer lead to any content whatsoever.

The study found that 50 percent of all the URL citations in available Supreme Court opinions and more than 70 percent of links in the Harvard Law Review, the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology, and the Harvard Law School Human Rights Journal have "rotted," meaning that they no longer link to the originally cited information.

President of the Harvard Law Review Gillian S. Grossman '10, a third-year student at the Law School, declined to comment on the errant links and what Zittrain and Albert called in their paper "a serious problem for scholarship."

Yet if Grossman's organization and other frequently read legal sources don't update their citations, future Harvard students huddled away in Langdell or Lamont might be in even bigger trouble than they are now.

If the internet is left to its own devices, Zittrain and Albert write, "it is likely that readers a few years from now will be unable to obtain huge swaths of sources invoked by what they read, and scholarship would suffer accordingly."

For now, the best solution we can offer, short of actually fixing the pathways of the cited links, is to do your research quickly before more of them disappear into the void of the internet!

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