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The GPO Access site directs you to the most recent printed, official version of the US Code (2006), so this is out of date.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.