Fixing errors in Westlaw and Lexis versions of documents

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

A reminder: If you run across an error in a Westlaw or Lexis version of a document, help your fellow users by e-mailing the correction to west.referenceattorneys@thomson.com or source.acquisition@lexisnexis.com. This is especially so if it's an error that confused you or risked leading you into an error of your own—once you've figured out the problem, take a minute to help keep others from being tripped up by it.

[UPDATE: Some people ask how one knows that something is a Westlaw/Lexis error, as opposed to an error in the original document, which Westlaw or Lexis must faithfully transcribe. There are three main ways.

First, for many cases Westlaw includes a link to a PDF of the original reporter image; if I need to quote a case for my work, and the Westlaw version seems like it might be in error, I'd have to check the PDF in any case, so I get it right. As a result, I might learn that Westlaw got it wrong.

Second, if I see what might be an error and there's no link to a PDF (often the case for very old cases or very new ones), and I need to quote the original, I'll have to find an authoritative version myself (through the library, through Google Books or HeinOnline, or, for new cases, by looking at the court's web site). Again, I might learn that Westlaw or Lexis got it wrong.

Third, the error might look like it's very likely Westlaw's or Lexis's, but I don't have the time or inclination to check the original. Then I might e-mail Westlaw or Lexis a more tentative message, saying that I think it looks like an error, though I'm not positive; they can then check themselves.]

(I should note that, when I first blogged about this, a commenter responded, "I don't think I would be very inclined to spend even ten seconds of my time providing free labor for ThomsonWest. Maybe if there were a nonprofit legal database dedicated to providing free or cheap access to court documents to the general public, I'd be willing to donate some labor to help them improve the database. But Westlaw and Lexis can surely hire their own copyeditors. Alternatively, if they want me to submit errors when I run across them, they could offer a small reporting fee to people who report errors that turned out to indeed be errors." Several other commenters agreed.

But this doesn't strike me as a sound approach. The benefit of a correction, after all, isn't really to the companies, which get little marginal profit out of these corrections. It's to other people like you—your fellow lawyers, law students, academics, and the like. And those are precisely the same benefits that would stem from correcting errors in a nonprofit legal database.

Of course, if you don't want to spend even 10 seconds helping other people this way, I have nothing against that; you're under no obligation. But if you derive some pleasure from helping people, or improving the accuracy of information, I don't see why you should get put off by the fact that in the process Westlaw and Thomson might get some tiny benefit.)