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Westlaw 50 State Surveys

By Pamela S. Brown

March/April 2006 Table of Contents


Time-consuming, state-by-state searches for statutes and laws are a thing of the past with Westlaw 50 State Surveys. A part of Westlaw StatutesPlus, the new search tool allows users to easily locate and compare laws and statutes on specific topics on a state-by-state basis by employing one simplified online search.

Westlaw 50 State Surveys gives the user citations to comparable state statutes and links the user to full-text versions of relevant laws. Users can download and print Portable Docu­ment Format summaries that analyze the differences and similarities among states. It covers almost every topic imaginable, and Westlaw constantly adds to its database.

Despite the positive attributes of this tool, I never have been able to easily wrap my brain around Westlaw in a comfortable fashion the way I can with LexisNexis. Unfortunately, 50 State Surveys is no exception. Finding the database I want requires me to take two or three extra steps. Westlaw’s user interface just isn’t very idiot-friendly.

For example, to find out more about medical records privacy in various states, I logged on to Westlaw and chose the “Westlaw” tab. I clicked onto the 50 State Surveys database and typed my search terms. Westlaw informed me the search would cost extra money. After I agreed to let my firm pay the fee, Westlaw then reported that my search terms were too broad and offered to help narrow them down for me. But even after using its search suggestions, I still received the “too many results” screen. I let Westlaw give me all the results, more than 4,000 of them. Obviously, many of the 4,000 results were not relevant. Just to compare, I searched the National Conference of State Legis­latures Web site (www.ncsl.org) and received 31 relevant results, for free.

 Westlaw offers online tutorials at http://west.thomson.com/westlaw/training/online. The training is in the second grouping on the page under “Westlaw StatutesPlus.” New users also can arrange for training with their Westlaw representative. Unless you are an experienced Westlaw user, I recommend training.

After a brief introduction, those who are experienced Westlaw users and understand the user interface should not have a problem using 50 State Surveys. In fact, they probably will wonder why it took Westlaw so long to come up with this idea. The online tool reduces research time, offers easy-to-understand analyses of laws and statutes, and uncovers results users probably would not find without it. For those of us who are Westlaw­-challenged, there always is training, experimentation and hands-on learning — or going with a less expensive option.



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