How State Courts Contract for Online Legal Information

Peter W. Martin
Cornell Law School

Last revised: 11/9/2018

This information was first assembled in 2007-2008. Some of the data is, therefore, quite dated.
Ten years on, updates and additions to the table of contractual arrangements (see below) have been requested from all fifty states..
They will be added as received.

Recently updated entries include: AL, AZ, HI, IA, MD, MI, MN, MO, MT, NE, NH, NJ, ND, OH, PA, RI, SD, TN, TX, UT, WA, WI


State court systems produce law in the form of judicial opinions that, with varying degrees of precedential weight or persuasiveness, guide future decisions and private decision-making. Courts are, however, by a vast margin, net consumers of legal information. To begin, judges perform their law applying and interpreting functions within frameworks established by their jurisdictions' constitutions, statutes, and administrative regulations. As a consequence, they require up-to-date collections of those materials. This country's messy federalism forces them to consult federal court decisions, on occasion, for interpretation of their own state's law. More frequently they must do so for rulings on federal statutes, regulations, and judicial precedent in the many matters coming before them that are governed, at least in part, by federal law. Primary legal materials from other states become important in cases of first impression and on topics where similar statutory or rule language is at issue. Annotations, commentary in many other forms, from journal articles to comprehensive treatises, are also critical resources for judges.

During the print era of recent memory, the judicial need for such an array of legal information meant that courts required law libraries. The need was not limited to appellate courts; trial judges, including those sitting in remote rural areas, required libraries. Indeed, viewing a jurisdiction's judicial system as a whole, the cost of furnishing adequate legal information to the trial judges spread across a state typically dwarfed the cost of meeting the needs of its few appellate courts, even though the latter received richer support. Roughly ninety percent of New York's annual expenditure for legal information delivered to its courts is spent at the trial court level.[1]

In many states, including some of its largest, viewing the judicial system as a whole is difficult because of how the trial courts are funded and administered. A common pattern places responsibility for general jurisdiction trial court costs on the county or counties they serve. Over the last century, numbers of states have moved away from this structure, creating "unified court systems." In their most complete form, unified court systems centralize administration and fiscal responsibility for all courts, trial and appellate, at the state level. Municipal courts of limited jurisdiction continue to operate on their own, but the trial courts with general jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters are completely funded by the state. Unification or consolidation of the judiciary has often progressed in stages, however, with the state first taking on salaries while leaving facilities and support costs to be borne by local units of government.

These structural differences have had a profound effect on how state courts have responded to the transformation of the legal information industry that has taken place over the past two decades. Digital sources have displaced law books in the work of lawyers and judges. A succession of acquisitions and mergers produced two dominant online legal information services, Westlaw and Lexis, and soaring prices for the remaining print materials. While Lexis and Westlaw face competition, particularly in the the small firm segment of the legal profession,[2] none of their competitors offer collections of the depth and breadth of the big two. It is fair to say that today access to the basic law collection of one of these two services has replaced proximity to a print law library as a court requirement. And for many courts these digital libraries furnish depth and breadth they never were able to afford in print.[3]

By virtue of having a unified structure or in some cases as the result of a state initiative focused on this particular area of trial court support, numerous states now assure access to the comprehensive online legal information offered by Westlaw or Lexis for all state courts and judges.[4] In others, however, trial courts must make their own arrangements, if they can, using such county or district funds as are available.[5] Court autonomy is sufficiently extreme in a number of states that even the different appellate courts contract for online legal research services independently.[6]

There are other dimensions along which state judicial systems differ in their response to the new information environment. Several have contracted on behalf of some or all their courts with both major services, making it possible for judges and their staff to work from Lexis, Westlaw, or both.[7] In contrast, others have contracted with a single source.[8] In some instances this has followed a competitive bidding process.[9] In others negotiation has been limited to one preferred vendor.[10] An initial competitive award can readily lead to subsequent negotiated extensions or a shift to sole-source procurement, for the costs of switching can seem large to users and administrators.[11]

Both Westlaw and Lexis have shown particular eagerness to secure judicial contracts, providing courts more favorable terms than they offer other units of state government.[12] In some instances these favorable terms are explicitly tied to a court's prompt delivery of data in its custody – decisions or briefs – in digital format to the vendor.[13] Court libraries that commit to continuing to buy one vendor's print products may also be offered a price break on that same material in digital form.[14]

Some contracts for online information call on the vendor for additional services – a public access web site[15] or an internal database for use of the court.[16]

The following table presents basic information on how state courts are meeting the legal information needs of their judges, ranging from those sitting on the jurisdiction's court of last resort down through its trial courts of general jurisdiction.

Peter W. Martin

1. State of New York - Judiciary, Budget Summary for Fiscal Year 2018-2019, at 9, 87, 92, http://ww2.nycourts.gov/sites/default/files/document/files/2018-05/2018-19-UCS-Budget.PDF.

2. See Peter W. Martin, Reconfiguring Law Reports and the Concept of Precedent for a Digital Age, 53 Vill. L. Rev. 1, 22-24 (2008).

3. Consider the content and capability called for by Maryland's 2018 RFP or Minnesota's 2014 RFP. None of the competitors to Lexis and Westlaw could qualify. See MD, MN.

4. The list is a long one. See, e.g., AK, DE, KY, MD, MA, MT, NJ, OK, OR, RI, SC, TN, VT, VA, WA, WV.

5. See, e.g., KS, NV.

6. See, e.g., GA, OH, MI.

7. See, e.g., OR, TN.

8. See, e.g., AK, MT, NJ, OK.

9. See, e.g., NJ, ND.

10. See, e.g., HI, KS.

11. See, e.g., MT.

12. Numerous sources report this price differential. It appears explicitly in the price list applicable to the Texas Master Agreement with Lexis. See TX.

13. See, e.g., HI, RI, WA.

14. See, e.g., AK, OK.

15. See, e.g., AK.

16. This is a component of the Maryland RFP. See MD.

Table of State Court Contracts

State Are state courts a single administrative and budgetary unit? Is contracting for judicial access to online legal information centralized? Which service or services hold current contracts? Are contracts periodically put up for competitive bidding? Notable elements of the current contracting situation Documents and additional comments Source
AL Yes Yes Westlaw RFP was posted to Judicial Branch web site. Contract covers all justices, judges, clerks, and attorneys in the Judicial Branch. Current contract Tim Lewis, Director and State Law Librarian, Alabama Supreme Court & State Law Library (10/2018)
AK Yes Yes Westlaw No

In return for agreement not to cancel subscriptions to the National Reporter Service (NRS) in print, contract includes access to NRS page images.

As part of the agreement, Thomson hosts a website containing the unenhanced text of Alaska state caselaw from 1960 (statehood) to the present --http://government.westlaw.com/akcases

Current contract Catherine Lemann, State Law Librarian (2/15/2007)
AZ No Yes Westlaw   Westlaw is the sole provider for the Arizona Supreme Court, Court of Appeals Div I and the Superior Courts. The judiciary's contract is the product of a master agreement that covers state agencies more generally.   Brett Watson Arizona State Procurement Officer (10/19/2018)
AR              
CA              
CO              
CT   No     The appellate courts and trial courts (Superior Courts) have separate contracts. The latter have a contract with Westlaw.    
DE Yes Yes Westlaw and Lexis Yes, every 5 years Contract contains a non-disclosure provision   Chris Sudell, Deputy State Court Administrator (2/26/2007, 3/1/2007)
FL              
GA No No     Appellate courts (Supreme Court and Court of Appeals) and all 159 superior courts contract separately for online research services.   Cynthia Clanton, General Counsel and Associate Director for the Administrative Office of the Courts (2/10/2007)
HI No No Westlaw No In 2013, the Hawaii judiciary entered into two separate contracts with Westlaw, one for the Courts of Appeal ($142,749.24) and another for the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Circuit Courts ($64,692.00 for the first year).   http://www.courts.state.hi.us/fiscal/awards/exemptions-and-sole-source/2013_exemptions_sole_source
ID Yes Yes Westlaw and Lexis       Idaho State Law Library (5/7/2008)
IL              
IN              
IA Yes Yes Westlaw No Contains a non-disclosure provision   Kent Farver, Director of Finance, Iowa Judicial Branch (10/22/2018)
KS Mixed. Support costs of trial courts still borne at the county level, while all judicial salaries paid by the state. No Westlaw (for the appellate courts) No. A panel of senior judges decides on the vendor.

There is a single contract covering the appellate courts (Supreme Court and Court of Appeals). Whether to have online research services at the trial court level and, if so, which one is determined by the 105 counties

Contract contains a non-disclosure provision

. Jack Fowler, Executive Assistant and Counsel to Chief Justice Kay McFarland, Kansas Supreme Court (2/1/2007)
KY Yes Yes Westlaw Yes     J. Reed Ennis, Assistant Law Librarian, Kentucky State Law Library (3/5/2007)
LA              
ME              
MD Yes Yes Westlaw Yes On April 9, 2018, Maryland's AOC awarded a five-year online legal research contract with a two-year extension for Maryland's Judiciary to Thomson Reuters (Westlaw) for a total of $1,108,277.52 for the seven years.  Maryland's bid documents announced that its Judiciary has 1000 research-intensive users, and its RFP separated its users into designated tiers based on access and research requirements.   This contract equates to approximately $1108 per user over seven years, $158 per user per year, or $13 per user per month for seven years. RFP for 2018 contract
RFP addendum
Q&A
https://www.courts.state.md.us/procurement/awards
MA   Yes Lexis, Loislaw, Westlaw Contracts with all 3 vendors are periodically renegotiated. In addition to the commercial services there is a MA law database maintained by the Social Law Library. Court staff are urged to use it and Loislaw before turning to Westlaw or Lexis.   Marnie Warner, Law Library Coordinator, Administrative Office of the Trial Court (2/15/2007)
MI No No Lexis and Westlaw Contracts with the two vendors are periodically renegotiated.

The Michigan Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have individual contracts with Westlaw and Lexis. They tend to sign three year agreements with each vendor, which locks the pricing. Each court contracts separately. Packages are slightly different. Users can choose one service or the other. Access to both services is available if the user reasonably needs both.

  Julie Clement, Michigan Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Librarian (10/25/2018)
MN   No Westlaw When contracts expire, RFPs are issued which become the basis for negotiation. There are separate contracts for the appellate courts (Supreme Court and Court of Appeals) and state trial courts. The most recent RFP for an appellate court contract was issued in Oct. 2014. RFP for 2014 contract  
MS   Yes Lexis Yes     Jack E. Pool, Court Administrator and. Counsel (5/6/2008)
MO   Yes Lexis When the current contract expires, an RFP is issued. Responses can become the basis for negotiation. Counties are free to contract with other vendors for trial courts. Only Lexis responded to the 2015 RFP. The price in the resulting 5-year contract is $7,890 per month for 750 users. 2015 RFP and contract Catherine Nelson Zacharias, Legal Counsel, Office of the State Courts Administrator (3/2/2007, 5/5/2008, 10/22/2018)
MT Yes Yes Lexis Yes State law library hold a single contract covering lawyers and paralegals working for state and local government, charged by billing according to number of passwords.   Sarah McClain, Director, State Law Library of Montana (10/25/2018)
NE No, Personnel, IT, Education are provided by the state and physical courthouses and courtrooms are provided by the local county. Yes Lexis and Westlaw Existing contracts have simply been renewed over the past 4 years.     Corey R. Steel, Nebraska State Court Administrator
NV No No Westlaw No Nevada Supreme Court Library contracts with Westlaw on behalf of the court and its staff. State trial courts have their operating costs borne by counties placing their contracts for their information resources at that level.  
NH Yes Yes Lexis and Westlaw No

Contracts for LexisAdvance and Westlaw are managed by the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Law Library. One contract covers all trial and appellate courts. The executive and legislative branches in New Hampshire have their own contracts.

The current contracts contain nondisclosure provisions. Westlaw’s is more restrictive than the LexisAdvance provision which explicitly makes the terms subject to any state open records or freedom of information statutes.

 

Chris Keating, Director Administrative Office of the Courts New Hampshire Judicial Branch (10/24/2018)

NJ Yes Yes Lexis Yes There is a single statewide contract (for Law & Public Safety, Judiciary and NJ State Library departments) which was put out for bid by the NJ Dept. of Treasury. Current contract expires 1/2019. Some State departments and agencies have additional providers (Westlaw).   Katheryn Spalding, Appellate Division Librarian (10/16/2018)
NM   Yes Lexis and Westlaw No The judiciary contracts with both Westlaw and Lexis cover both appellate and district court judges.   Robert Mead, State Law Librarian (5/6/2008)
NY              
NC              
ND Yes No Lexis and Westlaw Yes

There is one contract, currently with Westlaw, covering the state trial courts. There are separate contracts for Lexis and Westlaw for the Supreme Court. The judicial branch does have a process for competitive bidding which applies to the trial court contract.

The LexisNexis contract is subject to nondisclosure provisions. The Westlaw contracts can be requested via Rule 41 of the North Dakota Supreme Court Administrative Rules, the mechanism for requesting public court records. (The North Dakota Court System is exempt from the state's Open Records Law.)

  Catie Palsgraaf, Acting Supreme Court Law Librarian (10/30/2018)
OH No No Lexis and Westlaw  

Supreme Court, individual Courts of Appeals and trial courts all contract for online legal research services on their own. The state's contract with Thomson for publication of its official case reports provides the Supreme Court and individual Courts of Appeals discounted rates for Westlaw.

The Law Library has a public access subscription to Westlaw which is not part of the publishing contract. The Law Library also has an agreement with Lexis for research services within the Library as well as for public access.

 

Ken Kozlowski, Director, State Law Library (10/23/2018)

OK Yes Yes Westlaw No

Oklahoma's Court of Criminal Appeals contracts for online legal research services separately.

The Oklahoma State Courts Network (www.oscn.net) maintains a comprehensive and up-to-date state law collection that is heavily relied upon by attorneys in the rural counties.

The contract contains a non-disclosure provision. The Westlaw price is tied to quantity of book purchases from Thomson

 

Terri Calloway, Director of Legal Information and Law Libraries, Administrative Office of the Courts (2/21/2007)
OR   Yes Lexis and Westlaw No All judges and their legal staff receive passwords for both Lexis and Westlaw, so that they are able to use either or both services.   Joe K. Stephens, State of Oregon Law Library (1/31/2007)
PA No No Lexis and Westlaw No The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) has contracts with West and Lexis to provide online legal research access to users within the AOPC and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The state's two intermediate appellate courts (the Superior Court and the Commonwealth Court) maintain separate contracts with both Lexis and Westlaw. Access to online legal research services at the trial court level varies by county. Public access to these contracts is available pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Judicial Administration No. 509, Access to Financial Records. Timothy McVay, Senior Counsel, Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts (11/5/2018)
RI Yes Yes Westlaw and Lexis Periodically renegotiated Westlaw contract provides Supreme Court gratis access to RI briefs in return for court's assistance in furnishing the data to Thomson. It also contains a non-disclosure provision.. Westlaw contract extends to all levels of the state judiciary. Lexis contract is limited to the law library. Colleen Hanna, State Law Librarian (10/22/2018)
SC   Yes Lexis and Westlaw Yes Lexis contract is limited to the appellate courts (Supreme Court and Court of Appeals). Westlaw contract extends to all levels of state judiciary.   Dan Shearouse, Clerk of the South Carolina Supreme Court (1/31/2007)
SD Yes Yes Westlaw   The price in the current 5-year contract, executed in 2017, began at $20,153 per month for 117 users and escalates through annual increments to $20,971 in 2022. 2017 contract Greg Sattizahn, State Court Administrator (10/19/2018)
TN Yes Yes Westlaw  

The contract with Westlaw covers all state-paid judges. Prior provision of both Westlaw and Lexis ended due to budget constraints.

 

Contract available through a public records request. John B. Coke, Assistant General Counsel, Tennessee Supreme Court, Administrative Office of the Courts (10/22/2018)
TX No No Lexis and Westlaw  

In 2008, the Lexis and West contracts for the judiciary were handled by the State Law Library. At some point after 2008, the Council on Competitive Government negotiated these services for all state agencies and its master contracts replaced the State Law Libraryís ones when they expired. The Council on Competitive Government was dissolved in September of 2017 and its contracts (which expire in 2023) were assumed by the Texas Comptrollerís Office.

Texas Department of Information Resources site furnishing access to the contracts with both Lexis and Westlaw

Mena Ramon, General Counsel, Office of Court Administration (11/8/2018)

UT   Yes Lexis Yes

Westlaw is the sole provider for the Utah Courts. The judiciary's contract includes all levels of court, including justice, (limited jurisdiction) , district (general jurisdiction), juvenile and appellate courts as well as the Administrative Office of the Courts. Its contract is the product of a master agreement executed in 2016 that covers state agencies more generally.

There is a similar Lexis master agreement which the courts do not use.

2016 Master agreement (Westlaw)

2015 Master agreement (Lexis)

 

Jessica Van Buren, Director Utah State Law Library (5/7/2008, 10/19/2018)
VT   Yes Westlaw Yes   Contract covers all of state government, not just the judiciary. Robert Hubbard, Chief Law Clerk, Vermont Trial Courts (2/28/2007)
VA   Yes Lexis Yes     Karl R. Hade, Executive Secretary, Supreme Court of Virginia (2/27/2007, 5/1/2008))
WA No Yes Westlaw Yes The price in the current 4-year contract, executed in 2017, began at $4,235 per month for the appellate courts, $13,601 per month for the trial courts and escalates through annual increments to $4,428 and $14,222 in 2021.

2017 contract

John Bell, Manager, Contracts, Data Dissemination, Procurement, and Public Records, Administrative Office of the Courts (10/5/2018)
WV Yes Yes Westlaw   Contains a non-disclosure provision   Kathleen S. Gross, Deputy Administrative Director (2/1/2007, 5/5/2008)
WI The Wisconsin Supreme Court is the administrative body for the courts, however trial court budgets are shared between county and state funding. No, the Wisconsin Law Library assists in contracting for the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals and through the State Law Library in the two largest trial court jurisdictions Milwaukee and Dane County.  All other counties contract on their own. Lexis and Westlaw  

Contracts with both Westlaw and Lexis cover the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, some Supreme Court offices and the State Law Library.

Both contracts contain a clause that bars the sharing of the content, pricing, etc.

  Diane M. Fremgen, Deputy Director of State Courts, Office of Court Operations (10/26/2018)
WY   No    

There are different contracts for the different court levels. The Supreme Court has contracts with both Lexis and Westlaw. The District Courts have a Westlaw contract. The Circuit Courts do as well.

Supreme Court has free access to Westlaw briefs database in return for its transmitting them.

  Kathleen B. Carlson, Wyoming State Law Librarian (5/7/2008)