When You Find an Error in a WESTLAW or LEXIS Version of a Case,

do something nice and call the companies to have them correct it. WESTLAW is at 1-800-REF-ATTY; LEXIS is at 1-800-543-6862 (no official mnemonic, and the best that I could get from is LIE-NUMB or KID-NUMB). That way future lawyers, law students, legal academics, judges, and law clerks won't be tripped up by it. It's quick and easy, and you'll feel you've done your Good Deed For The Day.

Anderson (mail) (www):
I don't call, I use the Feedback option on Westlaw. Apart from mistakenly showing an error screen every time I use it (mistakenly, b/c I hear back from Westlaw &learn that the message went through), it works fine, and some who won't take the time to call might prefer an online means of reporting errors.
5.8.2006 3:19pm
Do your "good deed" providing a free proofreading service to a private company, increasing the value of their proprietary databases? Perhaps we should volunteer to help WalMart mop their floors and paint their walls as well? It would help make things nicer for future customers...
5.8.2006 3:54pm
H. Tuttle:
I'm with nonnymouse. !*@#&good deed my Aunt Mary. ;-)
5.8.2006 3:57pm
Jared K.:

No, but maybe if there's vomit in aisle 4 you might want to let someone know.
5.8.2006 4:25pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Oh, come now, folks -- WESTLAW and LEXIS get little benefit from such corrections. The error rate is low enough, and WESTLAW and LEXIS pervasive enough, that few people will refuse to get WESTLAW and LEXIS because of the error rate. Nor do I see much evidence of such companies competing based on the low error rate (again, presumably because all of them have a pretty low error rate).

The real beneficiary is some poor schlub like you, who will rely on the erroneous report and end up making an embarrassing mistake. True, he's not "poor" in the sense of destitute, and sometimes he might even be making a very handsome income. Still, is it too much to ask that you folks have just a bit of empathy for a fellow lawyer / law student / law clerk?
5.8.2006 5:03pm
Arthur (mail):
Pleae, no one correct the error that made me the winning defendants' counsel, rather than the losing plaintiffs' counsel, in one reported case (a Court error that appears in both services, or did at one time).
5.8.2006 5:20pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
If you're not already, judicial interns &clerks, get in the habit of checking up on "your" opinions on Westlaw &Lexis, as you are in a good position to correct errors.

My first correction to Westlaw came when an opinion that was overruled by "my" later opinion was merely yellow-flagged. "Yellow-flag my ass," I grumbled, &e-mailed Westlaw.

(About that case; I was a rising 3L interning for Judge William H. Barbour over the summer, and the second memo I wrote for him was recommending that he overrule an earlier, mistaken opinion of his own. Not what I wanted to be telling a federal judge in my first week, let me tell you. I was quite nervous until he handed back the memo, saying "I agree, let's publish it." Worth repeating as a testimony to the federal judiciary and to Judge Barbour in particular.)
5.8.2006 6:15pm
S. Chapman (mail):
Alas, Westlaw will not always correct mistakes, at least when they are widespread.

For example, the very early case reporters in my state--those recording cases from the 1780s to at least the 1820s--include short marginal notes analogous to the headnotes used today. A year or so ago, I noticed some unusual text in a case from the 1820s that I was looking at online. The text just seemed repetetive and a bit awkward, so I decided to check it against the hardcopy in our library. The text in question turned out to be one of those marginal notes. On Westlaw's version of the case, the marginal note had simply been inserted into the text of the opinion after the paragraph that it was adjacent to. In fact, all of the marginal notes in that opinion had been so inserted. I did some cross checking of other opinions, and the mistake appeared to be very common. If I remember correctly, every opinion I looked at had been treated the same way. I called Westlaw and told them about the error and how widespread it was.

Having just checked a few random cases on Westlaw, they appear to have fixed some of them, including the one I think I originally looked at, by moving the marginal notes to the top as headnotes. But I still found several cases on Westlaw with the marginal notes added into the text. Perhaps I should call again.
5.9.2006 4:51pm
Crank (mail) (www):
Of course, mistakes in the original opinion are another matter. Like one case I worked on where the Second Circuit said, "as we held in [CITE TO FOURTH CIRCUIT CASE]".
5.12.2006 5:29pm