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7th Circuit's Wiki Lets Practitioners Contribute
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals is engaged in an interesting
experiment in democracy. The court posted its Practitioners Handbook to
the web and opened it up for revision by members of the bar, no holds
barred. Attorneys are encouraged to make comments, change information,
add topics; in short, post whatever they think is important to know
about practicing in the 7th Circuit.
“Our proposition is that everyone knows more than any one
person,” says Chief Judge Frank H. Easterbrook. “As a group, the
attorneys practicing before our court know more about appellate practice
than any single person. With our wiki, we’re drawing on that wisdom.”
A wiki is a website that allows visitors to add, remove
and edit content. To Easterbrook’s’ knowledge, this is the first wiki of
its kind among the appellate courts. “We’re attempting to be part of
the 21st Century,” he says modestly. And they’re doing a very good job
of it. The 7th Circuit was the first federal circuit with a bulletin
board that allowed users to exchange messages and read news over a phone
line, one of the first to make audio of arguments available online, and
the first to make same day RSS feeds of opinions and audio recordings
of oral arguments available from its website.
Wikis are notorious for their wide-open,
feel-free-to-contribute ethos. But the experiment isn’t completely
without rules. Like all wikis, everyone is free to contribute content to
the handbook on the 7th Circuit’s site—and everyone else is free to
edit or criticize that content.
“By their nature, wikis are self-policing,” says
Easterbrook. “An active community does our monitoring. A mistake made by
one contributor can be corrected by another contributor within
As a necessary precaution, the circuit asks users to
register and provide a real e-mail address. A confirmation code is sent
by the court to the user’s e-mail address and only by using the code can
a user edit the website.
And if negative information is posted? “We are well
aware that there are destructive as well as constructive people in the
world,” says Easterbrook. “Some protection is provided by our community
of users viewing the page often enough to catch mistakes. We also keep a
log of any changes and who makes the changes. And, if all else fails,
we’ve designated staff to monitor the page and revert to an old page if
the changes are particularly damaging.”
Easterbrook is unfazed by the wide-open world of the
wiki. “After all, wikis are easier to change than a law review article,”
he says. And he hopes that other experiments that tap into the
collective legal knowledge can be added to the website—perhaps someday a
style and legal language guide. “A wiki allows people to start pages as
well as edit them, so the field is open to additions,” he says. “But
right now we’re just hoping to make life easier for the bar with a
The 7th Circuit’s wiki can be accessed at www.ca7.uscourts.gov/wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page .