When writing a legal blog, it’s just a matter of time before you’ll have to cite to a statute or regulation. We’ve already discussed how the citation should look in your legal content. Here, we’re going to focus more on where the external link should go and why it’s worth taking the time to find a reliable and public source.
The Problem: 50 States With Their Own System
Most of the time, the statutes and regulations that you’re going to link to from your legal blog come from your state. There are exceptions, of course – immigration lawyers are going to refer to federal law fairly often – but with most legal blogs covering personal injury or criminal defense, it is state law that is alluded to, the most.
Unfortunately, the 50 states succeed in varying degrees with the online versions of their code. On the one hand, there is New Jersey, which has a user interface from the 1990s, does not allow browsing, and won’t give you a useable URL without a good hard fight. They also have “no idea” what it means to have an “official” version of the code (see footnote 8).
Close to the other end of the spectrum, Pennsylvania’s online statutes are searchable and can be browsed by title. Texas’s online code is even cross-referenced with hyperlinks, while Colorado’s is annotated with important cases (though it is hosted on LexisNexis, making for difficult linking). Somewhere in the middle is California’s obsession with massive font.
What to Look for in an Online Version of Your State’s Code
Obviously, you want to link to the state-sponsored version of your state’s code whenever possible. While this might not be deemed “official” for evidentiary purposes, it’ll more than suffice for a legal blog. Look for your state’s statutes on a “.gov” domain.
Finding the state-sponsored version is not always easy, though. State governments spend little energy on promoting their version of the code in the search engine results. Private companies that host versions of the state statutes on their own pages – usually Justia or FindLaw – are often ranked above the real versions thanks to aggressive SEO campaigns. Some states, like Colorado, use WestLaw or LexisNexis rather than hosting the law, themselves. You may end up scrounging in the second page for the official editions of your state’s code.
Using it, though, is worth the effort. The SEO ramifications of using a legitimate website are significant, and there are signs that search engines consider .gov domains to be the most legitimate on the web.
What to Avoid When Linking to State Statutes or Regulations
Perhaps more important than the SEO perks of linking to your state’s own version of the code, though, is your interest in not losing potential clients to the advertisements for other lawyers that are often found in private sources of the state’s statutes.
Justia is a prime example. If you link to New York’s statute against drunk driving on Justia, you risk sending clients who have already come to your page for a lawyer to a site that then advertises for other lawyers. Worse, those sponsored listings in the sidebar target specific statutes: When you go to Justia for a DUI-related statute, the advertisements will be for DUI defense lawyers.
You’ve already done the hard work of attracting potential clients to your law firm’s website. Linking to a private version of the state code can undo all of that work in an instant.