Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Research Tip: How Current Is Your Source?


Most of us instinctively assume that online sources will be more current than print sources. That is not always the case, even with premium services like LexisNexis or Westlaw.

This semester, I had my Lawyering Skills students use the Missouri statutory code for one of their legal research exercises. While preparing the answer sheet, I was surprised to see that the MO statutory code section on LexisNexis had this statement about currentness: "Current through all 2005 legislation." I was sure that this had to be a mistake, so I investigated.

I started with the books. The pocket-parts for Vernon's Annotated Missouri Statutes in print, which we received in February, are current through the end of 2005!

The MO statutory code section on Westlaw had this statement about currentness: "current through the end of the Second Regular Session of the 93rd General Assembly (2006)." Westlaw's Scope information for the database states that "State Revisor's corrections are not incorporated until they are received from the state."

The Source Description for the LexisNexis Missouri Annotated Statutes says that the statutes are updated annually. I confirmed this information with a LN reference attorney, who told me that the database is scheduled to be updated after Thanksgiving, when LN receives the new code from the state and after the editorial enhancements are added.

Missouri only updates its official code annually, and the Missouri Revised Statutes on the General Assembly website has this warning, entitled Frequency of Statute Updates: "As provided in section 3.125 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri 2000, the statutes of Missouri are permitted to be published once a year or every two years. In compliance with this section, the statutes on this web site are updated only once a year."

Of course, you can always use a legislative service to update a statutory code, whether you are doing research using books, LexisNexis, or Westlaw. You just don't expect to have to do so much updating when you are using an online annotated code.

Related research tip: Is It Still Good Law?

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