An advance sheet is a pamphlet containing the text of several recent court decisions, providing people with access to a preliminary publication of those decisions. The final publication is in a bound volume with the text of several such pamphlets, with the bound volume being the formal version people will consult when using legal opinions in legal arguments and other matters. An even less formal document, a slip opinion, is a reproduction of a single opinion, usually produced because there is close public interest and the court wants it to be available immediately.
Some important differences can be seen between advance sheets and formal bound opinions. Judges are allowed to reword or adjust the opinion, although they cannot reverse or substantially change it. The pagination in the final version can differ from the advance sheet, and people may encounter different language, citations, and other variations from the earlier version. The bound version supersedes all others, and people usually discard advance sheets after bound versions are published to avoid citing the wrong document.
The quality of printing can vary and may be poor, as the goal is to cheaply distribute opinions so people can read them. Some advance sheets are provided in binders, although other binding methods may be used as well. The paper is usually not archival and can be of low quality to cut expenses. An advance sheet may break down quickly with handling and is not intended to last for an extended period of time.
People can use an advance sheet to get an overview of a legal opinion and the information the judge used to support that opinion. This can be useful when developing cases; someone with a similar matter might want to be able to cite this opinion in court and needs to work with the material as soon as it is available, rather than waiting for the final version. People getting ready to work with a particular judge can look up advance sheets of recent legal decisions to get an idea of how the judge thinks and works with the goal of tailoring a case to the judge's frame of mind. Legal scholars may have an interest in particularly important cases and start preliminary research with an advance sheet, not waiting for the final printing.
Advance sheets can be obtained from official printers, representatives of the court, and companies that specialize in legal materials. Many courts have taken to providing recent court decisions online, allowing people to access them anywhere. One advantage to uploading documents is rapid distribution, allowing people to quickly see legal opinions once they are filed with the court recorder and posted online.