Statutes In WestlawNext

WestlawNext is an amazing product. The new interface is very user friendly. And although I generally prefer to use terms and connectors searching, the natural language algorithm does have a benefit for the up-and-coming Google generation.

One of the best features of WestlawNext and West products, in general, is the editorial process that cases and statutes go through to organize the content and connect cases and statutes to other helpful content. For example, statutes have annotations that cross reference to secondary sources, give the history of the statute, and offer Notes of Decision, which are cases that interpret a particular statute.

While researching recently, I noticed that WestlawNext does not update the Notes of Decision for a particular statute after a statute has been amended. There may be cases attached to the amended statute that interpret the older language of the pre-amended statute. This was confirmed by Westlaw through one of their Research Attorneys: "Generally, our policy is not to remove Notes of Decisions from statutes, even if the case has negative history or may discuss language that is no longer specifically within the statute. Sometimes these cases can be useful for providing information on the prior language or previous interpretations, and may give insight into why or how the statute changed as a result."

I also noticed that older cases generally link to the current version of a statute. For example, a faculty was interested in an older version of a statute from the late 1980's. I found cases from the late 80's interpreting the older statute with hyperlinks to the statute. But the hyperlinks to the statute took you to the current version of the statute - not the pre-amended version.

Instead, I had to use the Historical Statutes Annotated to find the older version of the statute that was interpreted in the case. Keep in mind that the most of the Historical Statutes Annotated on WestlawNext go back to 1989. If you need a pre-1989 statute, you may have to rely on HeinOnline, print, or microfiche.

It is very helpful to have the older cases attached to a statute to see how a statute's interpretation has changed over time, and  it is also helpful for a case to include hyperlinks to the material cited in the case. But it's important for researchers to understand West's editorial process and also understand WestlawNext's functionality when it comes to searching to be able to successfully evaluate and contextualize information. It is important to know, for example, that you may have to go from a case that interprets an older version of a statute to the Historical Statutes Annotated to find the correct version of that statute.

Happy Halloween! And the winner for the best costume goes to baby Ruth Bader Ginsburg.



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