Unethical Requests for Westlaw/Lexis Usage

In a recent opinion the Utah State Bar’s Ethics Advisory Committee was faced with the issue of whether it was a violation of the ethics rules “for an attorney to ask a law student to undertake research using the law student’s free account and in breach of the student’s contract with Lexis and/or Westlaw.”  The Committee held that it was.  Specifically they held that it was a violation of Utah’s Rules of Professional Conduct for a “lawyer [to] encourage[] or participate[] in a law student’s violation of the student’s contractual obligation to” Westlaw or Lexis.

The Committee noted that “Numerous students have reported that practicing attorneys have conditioned initial or continuing employment as a law clerk upon the student’s violation of the agreement with the research services. In other instances, lawyers have knowingly used information retrieved from the electronic services in violation of the student’s contractual agreement.”  Since these numerous reports have come to the Utah State Bar it is important for our law students to be aware of this and be familiar with what you can and cannot use Westlaw/Lexis for during the summers.

Before each summer, Westlaw/Lexis publishes those rules and we pass them along here.  The basic gist of the rules is that Westlaw/Lexis student access is to be used for academic purposes, which includes research for professors, course work, and some internship/externships for credit.  “Academic purposes do not include research conducted for a law firm, corporation or other entity (unrelated to law school) that is paying you to conduct said research or that is passing along the costs of said research to a third party. These are deemed commercial purposes.”

I’ll post more about this as we near summer, but the library does have several resources available for you to use if you don’t qualify to use Westlaw/Lexis.  We currently have a computer terminal near the reference desk that has a version of Westlaw that can be used by the public.  We also have lower-cost legal research databases like Loislaw and Fastcase that can be used for summer research.  If you have specific questions come see us at the reference desk.

More on this story at Legal Skills Prof Blog.

(I cannot help but add that the Ethics opinion discusses “law students’ free account” to Westlaw and Lexis.  While these accounts are highly discounted, they are not free.)

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