July 23, 2010
1-800-FIX-THIS: Thorn v. Blanchard in Westlaw, Corrected Now?
The Volokh Conspiracy is one of the most widely read law prof blogs in the US and the "prime mover' of this blog is UCLA law prof Eugene Volokh. Recently he noticed that the Westlaw version of Thorn v. Blanchard, 5 Johns. 508 (N.Y. 1809), had an error
Westlaw lists the opinion as coming from the Supreme Court of New York, which isn’t now and wasn’t then the highest court of the state. The opinion actually comes from the Court for the Correction of Errors, also known as the Court of Errors, which was indeed New York’s highest court; that court decision was reviewing a lower court judgment from the Supreme Court of New York. And the difference is significant, as differences between a decision of a jurisdiction’s highest court and a lower court tend to be.
But when Volokh contacted West, he was informed that the Company would not correct the error.
That strikes me as a bad policy. I realize that Westlaw likely makes very little money from its old cases, and that experienced Westlaw users know some errors are inevitable. But Westlaw is still in the business of providing reliable information to its users. When it learns that there’s a demonstrable error in its database, it should correct it, rather than knowingly continuing to provide incorrect information. The organization’s unwillingness to make the correction — especially when the correction is likely to be cheap and easy, if a user is willing to send them the necessary supporting evidence — suggests that it doesn’t have much of a commitment to accuracy and product quality.
I’ll still keep submitting corrections for more recent cases, since my goal there is to help my fellow legal researchers, not to help Westlaw as such. But this experience definitely downgrades my opinion of Westlaw.
Note the comment trail to Volokh's July 20, 2010 post, Westlaw Refuses to Correct Errors in Old Cases that includes some who had to insist by repeated communications to the Company to make Westlaw accurate. Law librarians have had similar experiences. Perhaps TR Legal needs a 1-800-FIX-THIS hotline.
Corrected Now? When I checked at noon, yesterday, "yes"! See image below, left. It would be interesting to know when it was actually fixed. Was it after the hue and cry in the comment trail to Volokh's post was spotted by TR Legal?
Auditing WEXIS Database Content for Accuracy. Content providers to Lexis once had, perhaps still do have, special access to the vendor's database files that displayed upload dates. It might be advisable if both of our very expensive legal search vendors published an audit trail in each file display that identifies upload date and correction date information. Did Lexis have the information right all the time? Don't know. See image below right.
The sad truth is that neither TR Legal nor LexisNexis provide evidence to their user population that they regularly audit the accurancy of the resources they publish online. In this instance, it took the publicity generated by one very prominent law prof blogging about the matter to get a correction made. One has to wonder how many other submitted corrections are simply ignored. [JH]
I am actually trying to collect inaccurate westlaw and lexisnexis case reports or shepards/key cite signals as a way to illustrate how different editors or humans can make errors. The illustration is meant to show students how important it is to double check their work. If anyone has other examples, I would love to hear about them. email@example.com Thanks.
Posted by: vicki | Jul 25, 2010 1:50:38 PM