Between a Rock and a Free Site

We are big fans of free and low-cost legal research alternatives here at LRP.  And, we share our enthusiasm with our students in Advanced Legal Research.

But what do you do when there are apparent discrepancies in the free sites that you steer your students to time and time again?

Here is the story:

A professor stopped by the library one day and started off by saying how great Cornell’s LII site is but was wondering about a potential error on their site.

What was the error?

In the Federal Rules of Appellate Practice, Rule 4: Appeal as of Right — When Taken, there is a section dealing with appeals in criminal cases.

In 2009, that rule was modified: defendant’s notice of appeal needs to be filed within 14 days of certain events.  The prior version of the rule required that this notice needed to be filed within 10 days.

The big change: 14 days now; before, 10 days.

As of May 13th, the version of FRAP Rule 4 on LII’s site still shows the text of the old rule.  The top of that page states that it is current through 2007.  (And, not 2009.)

I decided to look around at other important research sites and see what was online.

The Office of the Law Revision Counsel prepares and publishes the United States Code, and on their site (uscode.house.gov) they have the text of the code and the rules.  They also have the wrong version of FRAP Rule 4.  The LII folks work off of the House site, so it isn’t that surprising.  This House version has a currency date as of 1/2009 — the rule was changed in March, taking effect in December 2009.

However, another site at the US House of Representatives has it right.  On the House Judiciary Committee site, they have the correct version of the rule posted on their Procedural Documents page.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has the correct version posted on their Rules page.   I also checked a number of Federal Court websites and all had the current version.

The GPO Access site directs you to the most recent printed, official version of the US Code (2006), so this is out of date.  And, worth noting: “The information contained in the U.S. Code on GPO Access has been provided to GPO by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives.”   But, of course.   Also, FDSys has such a great interface and so much useful information, but it is only current through the last official supplement — missing the current version of this rule.

As to various commercial versions: Westlaw and Lexis have the correct version.  And, FastCase and CaseMaker also have the current version.

However, newcomer on the block, Bloomberg’s BLAW has a 1998 version — very out of date (and still with the 10 days instead of 14 days mistake, among others).

So, what is the right thing to say to your class?  Do we feed the research paranoia, as Bob Berring describes it, where students feel the need to double or triple check everything online on multiple sources?  Or do we frustrate the students with the caveat that sometimes even the best resources aren’t going to do the trick?

This is truly a teachable moment, but not the type of lesson I had in mind.

Judge says: Keep this opinion out of Westlaw and LEXIS

 Judges make decisions and write opinions.  Some opinions get published and some do not.  Unpublished opinions get unofficially published in West’s Federal Appendix and very often show up online.   And on infrequent occasions some opinions find their way into LexisNexis but not Westlaw; others are found in Westlaw but not LexisNexis.

Here’s a case that caught my eye while doing some docket searching (I drink POM Wonderful, so that’s why it stood out).

On December 21, 2009 Judge A. Howard Matz, of the United States District Court for the Central District of California, issued an 7-page order in the case of POM Wonderful LLC v. Welch Foods, Inc..   This opinion includes, among other things, a discussion of standing under the California Unfair Competition Act and the California False Advertising Act.  At the end of the document, the judge writes:  “This Order is not intended for publication or for inclusion in the databases of Westlaw or LEXIS.” (emphasis mine)

A quick search of Bloomberg Law dockets produces at least a dozen other orders from this same judge with this same language.

So what about Bloomberg Law.com?  Or Google Scholar?  Or Fastcase?  Justia?  May any/all of them include the order?

Or is it just the strength of the Wexis duopoly and the judge really means he does not want the order published online anywhere.

LexisNexis and Westlaw have been the big players for decades.  But Google really could be a game-changer.  As a review article in the March 8, 2010 issue of The Recorder (“Worthy Adversary”) by Oliver Benn of Google Scholar points out:

If Google wants to devote its resources to addressing its current limitations, the future of legal research could become very different.  Many courts accept briefs electronically.  Why not hyperlink cited cases in the brief to the cases’ free Google pages?

And getting back to POM Wonderful, apparently it is available in LexisNexis and Westlaw, despite the judge’s request that it not be (please see comment from Bev Butula).

Will Knowledge and People Converge?

In today’s HuffPo, Paul Lippe (Legal OnRamp founder) interviews David Curle (legal information market analyst) in “Will Knowledge & People Converge?”

The interview moves through key trends and recent history in the legal information and publishing sector (including the latest improvements offered by the ‘big guys’ at Westlaw and Lexis).

Then the discussion shifts to the impact of Google Scholar‘s free case law on the legal information market:

“It’s revolutionary in the sense that the general public now has easy access to the law of the land, something that was surprisingly hard to obtain before.”

Curle mentions the FastCase iPhone app that allows free searching of its database.   The days of charging for ‘just access’ to primary legal materials are coming to a close.    And, welcome to the generation of data.gov and law.gov:

“Law.gov has the ambition of making all primary US legal material available in standardized, machine-readable formats that can be incorporated into new kinds of information products.”

. . . .

“open access to legal sources will spur the creation of new markets for legal information among consumers, and even more so among non-lawyer professionals who need to understand a narrow field of that they work with all the time. Expect to see new products and services built on top of the free legal information that will make the law more accessible to those new markets.”

And, speaking of new products building on free content.  Curle moves on to discuss SpindleLaw.

“They are building, in a kind of collaborative, Wiki-like way, a database of the legal rules that lawyers find in court decisions and in legislation. Their idea is that it’s pretty inefficient to get to those rules by searching and reading long court opinions. They are extracting and organizing the rules with links to the legal sources. They have a long way to go to prove that the concept works, but I like the way they are trying to turn the research process on its head.”

These are very interesting times.

Bloomberg Law, LexisNexis, Westlaw — New, Improved

From today’s New York Times:

The New York Times, Monday, January 25, 2010, p. B5

Technology

Legal Sites Plan Revamps As Rivals Undercut Price

By Ashlee Vance

Westlaw and LexisNexis, the dominant services in the market for computerized legal research, will undergo sweeping changes in a bid to make it easier and faster for lawyers to find the documents they need.

And in the February issue of the ABA Journal:

Legal Technology
Exclusive: Inside the New Westlaw, Lexis & Bloomberg Platforms
By Jill Schachner Chanen

After decades of Westlaw and Lexis rolling out incremental improvements, real innovation has become the watchword in online legal research. At stake: billions in revenue and a big piece of your computer desktop.

The ABA Journal article quotes yours truly.   A point I was trying to make, but it didn’t make the article, was how useful I find added features such as Westlaw’s ResultsPlus and Lexis’s Related Content.  These features steer students to what could be very valuable secondary source material that they wouldn’t necessarily think to search since many have the inclination to jump feet first into the case law databases.

Thomson Reuters to Cut Law-Unit Jobs

The Wall Street Journal, Friday, December 4, 2009, p. B9

“Thomson Reuters to Cut Law-Unit Jobs”

By Jerry A. DiColo

Thomson Reuters . . . said . . . it will cut 240 jobs in its legal businesses . . .

. . . legal has been a relatively weak performer, hurt by layoffs and cost cutting at law firms.

The company’s third-quarter revenue fell 4% as it began to feel the effects of slowdowns in subscriptions to its legal and financial-services products.

. . .

New article on West Publishing

From the November 2009 issue of Twin Cities Business:  “Thomson Reuters’ Brain,” by Dave Beal

The Eagan business that was once West Publishing now supplies its parent company with the intellectual firepower to outmaneuver Bloomberg and LexisNexis in the financial and legal content wars.

Lede:

There may be no more concise way to sum up the changed nature or ambitions of the former West Publishing Company than what Roger Martin says:  “We are sort of the next generation of Google — without the garbage — for professionals.”

The article discusses how successful the legal division is for the company:

Legal . . . is just one of seven primary business units . . . , but it’s a big contributor to the bottom line.  In 2008, it accounted for 27 percent of Thomson Reuter’s $ 13.4 billion in revenue and 39 percent of its operating income. . . .   In the first quarter of 2009, the legal unit had an operating margin of 32.1 percent versus 20.7 percent for the entire company. . . .

The article goes on to discuss the work of the company’s many “information technologists” and quotes chief scientist Peter Jackson on “the right balance of natural and artificial intelligence is a product-development key.”

One such product is ResultsPlus, which I have found extremely useful at time.  Acccording to the article,

ResultsPlus is built on machine learning and natural language processing, . . . but also central to its effectiveness is that it uses the primary search results — those guided by the user — to shape the secondary search. (The “metadata” fed into the secondary search also include “West key numbers,” . . . ).

Other sections of the article include:

Thomson Sells Reuters and Vice Versa

An Edge on LEXISNEXIS?

Westlaw’s war with LexisNexis has shifted back and forth for a generation, since a version of LexisNexis launched in 1973, two years ahead of Westlaw.  Lately, the clash is tilting in Westlaw’s favor.

Battling BLOOMBERG: Terminals, News, and Datafeeds

The article concludes:

Given potential growth in emerging markets and more opportunities being generated by Jackson’s R&D group, [Peter] Warwick [CEO of Thomson Reuters Legal] puts the annual revenue potential of the legal division alone at $ 14.3 billion — four times Thomson’s Reuters Legal’s revenues in 2008.

But growth will depend on how adept the company is at continuing to add value to its massive collections of data.  Google searches, after all, are free; Thomson Reuters is a Google for professionals who are willing to ante up for it.  As the company . . . has discovered, information itself is merely a commodity in the information age.  Information as a service — infinitely searchable, sortable, and customizable — is what’s in demand.

Bob Berring and Tom Bruce – Twin sons of different mothers

A couple of weeks ago our friend and hero Tim Stanley from Justia gave his terrific free-resources presentation at our Advanced Legal Research class.  As an in-class exercise the next class session, we asked the students to briefly share some aspect of what they learned from Tim’s talk.  One student wrote:

I learned that there are a variety of free resources available besides Lexis & Westlaw.  I also learned that Oklahoma is actually one of the best states in terms of keeping their cases & statutes up-t0-date online.  One of the more fascinating things that I learned was that Cornell’s US Code online is probably the best free resource of the U.S. Code . . .

Since a question earlier in the quarter from a student about FDSys was followed up by an in-class answer by Public Printer Bob Tapella, we had to follow our student’s comment about the LII USC with a visit from the LII director! 

One of the joys of living in the San Francisco Bay Area for me is how, at some point or another, everyone passes through.  Last week Tom Bruce, from Cornell’s Legal Information Institute  was in town (we knew this from his Twitter stream) and so we tapped him to come and talk to our class.  Tom gave a terrific, inspiring talk to our class.  More on Tom’s visit here.  Tom is an incredibly dynamic and entertaining speaker — go hear him if you ever get the chance!

Tom’s talk focused on these three not-so-simple questions:

1) Why does anybody do legal research?
2) How much should it cost?
3) How good does it have to be?

Tom began the talk by showing the Bob Berring (also a dynamic and entertaining, not to be missed speaker) video that is making the law library rounds right now.

While Tom agrees with everything that Bob says (and I guess that I do too, although I wish that Bob had said “Lexis and West” rather than just “West”), seeing the Berring clip and then seeing Tom, well, the Dan Fogelberg Twin Sons of Different Mothers album came immediately to mind.  See for yourself the resemblance.

The gist of Tom’s talk is now online in a new video his LII has produced.

The LII blog has more about Tom’s visit, along with a number of related links, here

“Five guys at Cornell” have done some amazing things, and Tom gave a little preview of further good things under development.  Maybe high-stakes lawyers do need and will always need LexisNexis or Westlaw, but the rest of us and the entire world needs Tom and his LII.

“Unauthorized Copying and Sale by Westlaw and LexisNexis of Appellate Briefs…”

Earlier today, we blogged about two recent legal news items (here and here) on the copyright concerns regarding California Supreme Court appellate briefs appearing on Westlaw and LexisNexis.

As a follow-up, we have posted (with permission) the full text of the letter from attorney Edmond Connor, asking the court to amend Rule of Court 8.212.

The subject line for the letter reads: “Unauthorized Copying and Sale by Westlaw and LexisNexis of Appellate Briefs Served on Supreme Court Pursuant to Rule of Court 8.212.”

Court Struggles to Balance Public Access With For-Profit Interests

Court Struggles to Balance Public Access With For-Profit Interests

By Laura Ernde
Daily Journal
10/30/2009

“Three months after an attorney complained that the California Supreme Court was giving away valuable appellate briefs to for-profit firms, the court is still trying to figureout how to get itself out of the sticky copyright dilemma without reducing public access.”

This all began when attorney Edmond Connor contacted the court in July after finding his brief on Lexis (and not for free).  More on this here. Read the letter that he sent to Justice Ronald M. George and Mr. William C. Vickrey this summer.

Brief Fight Likely to End in Compromise

From tomorrow’s (Friday’s) San Francisco Recorder:

Brief Fight Likely to End in Compromise
The Recorder

By Mike McKee

October 30, 2009

The [California] Supreme Court sounds willing to end its practice of shipping briefs from all the state’s appellate cases to Westlaw and LexisNexis, which charge for them. An Irvine lawyer [Edmond Connor] saw a copyright problem…

Some more from the article:

‘Connor, who claims court briefs are lawyers’ copyrighted property, wrote again last Friday, urging the court to at least amend Rule of Court 8.212 — which requires lawyers to file either one electronic copy or four hard copies of their briefs with the high court — to instead require only one paper copy.

“Litigants will not have to incur the needless time and expense,” he wrote, “of providing the court with extra copies of briefs that the court simply discards — or gives away to vendors.”