Monday, November 27, 2006

Lee County / Tupelo Legal Research

I wanted to post a link to an article in the NE Mississippi Daily Journal that discusses how the Lee County Library will now have Westlaw, an Internet legal research tool, available on at least some of its computers. Westlaw is one of two major companies (LexisNexis being the other) that provide this service to attorneys, governmental agencies, libraries and others and it is quiet handy if you know how to use it. As the article discusses the previous Lee County facilities contained volumes that were often out of date and keeping the paper portion of a law library up to date is time consuming and labor intensive. Another benefit this provides is longer hours for researching possibilities as the Library is open more often than the previous facility.

I do, however, have a couple of concerns about this transition. As the article states part of this move is made to free up office space at the Lee County Justice Center. My concern is that there is nothing physically wrong with most of the volumes in their current condition, especially the reporters. Reporters are not updated, they are just opinions from cases from a previous year and the next year another volume comes out and they are a continuous set, there is nothing wrong with the law in them unless a new case comes out reversing the ruling or way of looking at a set of circumstances. This rarely happens in criminal law and the feeling I got from the article is that the books were headed for the dumpster.

My other possible issue which the article did not discuss is legal research access for prisoners. I assume the initial thought for putting the law library in the Lee County Justice Center was to give prisoners access to them to try and figure out their own defenses/issues/plans. While I advocate the use of an attorney, especially when facing a criminal conviction, a person has a right to defend themselves and as such needs access to a legal library to be able to prepare an adequate defense. Hopefully, defendants in Lee County will have this access but if the library is now at the public library I highly doubt furloughs will be granted to go research their case and it appears the books will disappear so they cannot do research at a detention facility, both of which make it harder on a criminal defendant.

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