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The "Gray Areas" of Westlaw/LexisNexis

I recently had a student email me with a problem. He was looking for a particular document in its original form (it has been amended at least once). He was wondering if there was a source in the library that would contain this document, but he also wondered if it was available online at all. He stated that he couldn't find it on Westlaw or LexisNexis, and that he even talked with a LexisNexis rep who "conceded that they probably don't have it."

Having spent several years working in the customer support department of one of these publishers, I recognized that this particular document was the kind of thing that could easily fall into what I call a "gray area" in the content available through Westlaw and LexisNexis.

Many of the secondary sources available through LexisNexis and Westlaw reprint the texts of entire treaties (including some not ratified by the US), decisions (of US courts, international bodies, and other entities), legislative materials (including model acts), older versions of documents that are no longer in effect, and a myriad of other, unusually hard-to-find, documents. Frequently, these are reprinted in appendices in treatises or in relevant periodicals, but treatises can also reprint the text of relevant documents within its own sections.

That's where we located this student's document: On LexisNexis, a treatise reproduced the text within a section, while on Westlaw, the text was reproduced in an appendix to another treatise. So remember: If you can't find it elsewhere, see if there is a treatise on the topic and look in it. It's amazing what you can find!

P.S. These aren't the only places to look: The Congressional Record is a good place to find difficult-to-locate documents, and even courts may have relevant or unusual documents appended to their decisions, such as a transcript of George Carlin's famous "Filthy Words" (also known as "the seven words you can't say on television") comedy routine. See FCC v. Pacifica Found., 438 U.S. 726, 751 (1978).


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