Legal Research, Racism, Technology, Westlaw

Is Westlaw Discriminating Against Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico law Westlaw boycott.JPGUpdate (4:15): After this post went was published, Thomson Reuters reversed course and reinstated the free printer access to Puerto Rican law schools. Click here for our coverage.
Thomson Reuters owns Westlaw and is one of the two major gatekeepers to legal research in the modern world. Recently, the company made an economic decision that some claim unfairly impacts law students in Puerto Rico. A tipster reports:

It seems Westlaw has decided to cut their free printer service to the four Puerto Rico Law schools for economic reasons, while keeping the service in all US law schools.

Why would Westlaw only discontinue free printer access to Puerto Rican law students? One Westlaw user wrote to Thompson Reuters, asking the company to reconsider its decision. But he also seems to have figured out why Westlaw made this decision.

As you may imagine, Westlaw, as well as Lexis-Nexis printers at the local law school libraries are mostly used by full time students who spend most of their day and night at the schools, but more importantly, by underprivileged students with limited resources who do not have at their disposal computers, printers and other technological equipment. Although we may take for granted that nowadays everybody has a computer and a printer, our local reality in Puerto Rico is still much different than the one for US law school students. Based on a local law school census made, it seems that the canceling of this service was limited to the Puerto Rico law schools, as contacts have been made with US law schools and so far Westlaw has not limited the printers’ service at their libraries.
I was informed that the printers and related supplies use at the Puerto Rico law schools is proportionately much higher than the one at US law schools. Should this be the case, it would be totally consistent with the fact that Puerto Rico law school students, as opposed to US law school students, have less resources at their disposal, as mentioned before, forcing them to use your research and printers’ services at the local law school libraries….
[I]t is really sad for me to be witness to many of my fellow students’ hardships trying to come up with means to pay law school and sacrificing themselves and many times their families, which for many of us would be difficult enough; now having to add another obstacle forcing them to stay even longer hours at the law school libraries to be able to perform research only through Lexis-Nexis in order to be able to print through their printers after making long waits for their few printers.

Is Westlaw cutting off free printer access to students who need it most? It might make sense from a cost control standpoint, but it’s not a strong moral position.
University of Puerto Rico School of Law professor José Julián Álvarez-González also wrote to Westlaw. He referenced the first letter to Westlaw, and then launched into a possible solution:

Dear Thomson Reuters executives:
The enclosed e-mail by Mr. Alberto Lázaro to you is self-explanatory. In it, he objects to your discriminatory policy to discontinue providing the printers’ service (complimentary printers and supplies), which were installed at the local Puerto Rico law school libraries. That policy, it seems, is only directed against Puerto Rican law schools. I am also informed that all efforts by our head librarian at the University of Puerto Rico Law School to have Thomson Reuters end that discriminatory policy have been rebuffed.
Since Thomson Reuters seems only to understand cost benefit analysis (in its own idiosyncratic way), let me complicate that analysis a bit. If Thomson Reuters does not immediately change its discriminatory policy to make it non discriminatory (for instance, a cap on sheets of papers and ink, applicable to all law schools everywhere on a per student basis), I will cease using Thomson Reuters texts in my courses, and will urge all colleagues at the four Puerto Rican law schools to do likewise. I will also bring the matter up with as many colleagues as I can in United States law schools.
I teach Constitutional Law, Federal Jurisdiction and Comparative Law. In Constitutional Law I have used Foundation Press casebooks for 28 years, usually Gunther´s (now Sullivan & Gunther), but some years I also used Cohen’s. During those 28 years I also used some version of Nowak & Rotunda’s hornbook as an additional text. My sections usually have between 60-80 students. In Federal Jurisdiction I have always used Wright’s casebook, and many times I have also assigned Wright’s hornbook as an additional text to the 30-40 students in that course. In Comparative Law, which I have taught for some seven years, I have used Schlesinger’s casebook and Glendon’s nutshell. I usually have some 10-15 students in that course. Also, I have taught that course four times in January at the University of Ottawa Law School, and will be teaching it again this January, Those courses usually have 15-20 students. I had already informed Ottawa that I would be using the new edition of Schlesinger (Mattei et al.) next January, but there is ample time to change that. And, as you well know, and Aspen and Lexis-Nexis representatives keep reminding me, there are many satisfactory susbtitutes for all of these texts.
I am sending a copy of this e-mail to Professors Kathleen Sullivan, John Oakley and Ugo Mattei, whose casebooks I would be forced to discontinue using, if you discriminatory policy remains in effect, and to Professors Owen Fiss and Carol Rose, of the editorial board of your University Casebook Series (Foundation Press). I will also forward it to as many stateside professors of Puerto Rican descent as I can identify. Professors Angel Oquendo (Connecticut), Pedro Malavet (Florida), Ediberto Román (Florida International) and Alberto Bernabe (John Marshall) immediately come to mind. All professors at Puerto Rico law schools will also receive a copy of this e-mail.
Since moral arguments have not been enough to make Thomson Reuters reconsider its discriminatory policy, I hope that math does the trick.
José Julián Álvarez-González
Professor of Law
University of Puerto Rico School of Law

You don’t have to be Puerto Rican to disagree with Westlaw’s decision, but this might not be the best time to be pissing off an entire ethnicity. If Puerto Ricans — from Sonia Sotomayor on down — boycott Westlaw, it might make the company change its mind.

(hidden for your protection)

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