How to cross-cite Westlaw and LEXIS cases?
October 10, 2008 9:19 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way to cross-reference the unique identifier of an unpublished case available on one electronic database to which you are subscribed (Westlaw, LEXIS, etc.) with its unique cite on one of the other electronic databases to which you are unsubscribed?

Let's assume that:
(1) You're a private lawyer or a law clerk at a court with access only to one service, say Westlaw;
(2) the people to whom you need to communicate the case's unique location have access only to one of the other services, say LEXIS;
(3) you know the Westlaw citation (the 2008 WL 1234567 cite) but need to give it to them in its LEXIS equivalent so they can access the case electronically.

How, short of calling law students or professors with their unlimited free accounts, can I find out the LEXIS cite? Or, assuming I'm a LEXIS user and know the LEXIS identifier, how can I get that "2008 WL 1234567" number?

I ask because some courts require you to cite these cases either to one or the other database, and many are only subscribed to one service. (The obvious practical solution for lawyers communicating with courts is to send a copy of the case along with your brief, motion, whatever. But they still have to look it up if they want an electronic copy--and no decent lawyer takes the approach, at least with regard to submitting information to a court, "Ah, they'll look it up.")
posted by resurrexit to Computers & Internet (5 answers total)
Best answer: One solution is to do a quick and dirty search for the party names within, say, ten words of each other on the service that you do have. You might get lucky and find a decision that cited the LEXIS format -- then again, it's baaaaaad lawyer practice to submit a cite to a court without personally pulling and checking it, just to make sure it didn't get cited wrong. Plus, chances of an unpublished case getting cited by another court are slim.

Personally, although I've never run into this situation since every clerkship and law firm I've been at had both services, I'd get hold of customer service for the service that you do have a subscription to, and ask what they'd suggest. If they don't have much to offer, try the customer service phone number for the other service. Explain the situation, and ask very sweetly. Lexis and Westlaw have freakin' phenomenal research support, and their agents have wide latitude to reel in new suckers be helpful.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:48 PM on October 10, 2008

Best answer: You can't find it out without calling up customer service.

You'll need the following information probably:

1. The parties
2. The docket number
3. The court
4. The date

If it's a slip opinion, then use that cite format

Foster v. Barnhart, No. 04C43, slip op. at 16 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 9, 2004)
posted by abdulf at 1:25 PM on October 11, 2008

Answer varies, but is essentially the same at its core, depending on whether you're citing a published or an unpublished opinion.

Unpublished: If you have a "valid" (i.e., Bluebook) cite, you have all the information you need - exactly as abdulf pointed out. All you need to cross-reference is at least one party's name, court, and date opinion was issued. Having the docket number would pretty much guarantee you've got the right case, but I do this all the time without the docket number.

If you're asking how to positively cross-reference between services with only one piece of data, then the docket number is the unique identifier you're looking for - except that it's unique for that jurisdiction only (i.e., more than one court could have cases with the same docket number such as 08-1099). So, unless the searcher knows what court the case is in, you'd have to provide more than one piece of data. Which gets you back to abdulf's answer - which is really just the proper Bluebook cite for unpublished opinions broken down into separate elements.

Published: Published opinions are easily cross-referenced via the national reporter system citation - again proper Bluebook format. Able v. Cain, 34 F.3d 999 (8th Cir. 2008). No one should be using the Wexis number to cite/cross-ref published cases.
posted by webhund at 8:34 PM on October 12, 2008

Best answer: Oh, one more thing after reading the very end of the OP: the practical lawyer will PDF a copy of the cases to the court (and opposing counsel) so that the court DOES have it in electronic format AND will also deliver a plain old paper copy to the court. The easier you make it for the court, the more likely they're gonna rule in your favor. It's human nature and it's part of effective advocacy.
posted by webhund at 8:37 PM on October 12, 2008

Response by poster: Calling the service you're not subscribed to makes the most sense--especially since, hypothetically, you'd have the docket number, court, date, etc.

The electronically-unavailable slip opinion part makes good sense, but I was thinking of the situation where you've got the unpublished slip available on one of the electronic databases and you only know, say, WL's identifier but the court wants the LEXIS one. I could've been more precise. :)

Anyway; thanks, all. I'm passing this on to a fellow that runs an appellate law 'blog and actually put the question in my head. This seems pretty rare in all honesty--I've not had it come up, personally, but since our court only has WL, I'm sure it will at some point. As a resourceful, non-bitter, clerk, I would just look it up by casename or whatever other info I could get, but it would be nice to have the information I need available to me. (If I'm not mistaken, our local rules don't say they have to give us the WL cite, so I could get a LEXIS cite someday.)
posted by resurrexit at 8:32 AM on October 13, 2008

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