Today the Courthouse News Service reported that  The law firm Himmelstein McConnell, Gribben  Donahue and Joseph LLP filed a class action lawsuit against Matthew Bender & Company a Member  of Lexis/Nexis Group Inc. in a New York State Supreme Court on February 23rd.

The complaint alleges  that the  annual publication, the New York Landlord Tenant Law book includes 37 textual omission and 18 inaccuracies. According to the complaint the publication also known as the “tan book” is sold as a “compilation of all the laws and regulations governing landlord tenant matters in New York, providing the text of state statutes and regulations and local laws,” contains serious errors and omissions  which render “it of no value to the attorneys, laypeople or judges who use it.” The omissions as identified in the complaint appear to be very significant– entire paragraphs of text on  issues such as rent control are missing from the Tan book.

The class action represents everyone who has purchased a “tan book” in the past six years and accuses Matthew Bender of breach of contract, unjust enrichment and engaging in deceptive business practices and seeks, refunds, compensatory damages and an injunction to prevent Matthew Bender from engaging in future deceptive business practices.

The “tan book”  which costs between $100-120 per volume, is part of a suite of annual desk books also known as color books used by lawyers in New York State.

I am personally on a quest to reduce purchases of desk books as much as possible. The cost of annual disposable volumes of code mounts up in a large firm. A firm with hundreds of lawyers could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most firms end up purchasing the same content in multiple formats:  online, ebooks, hard back  print statutory compilations and in  annual deskbooks. Paperback codes are at the bottom of the publication “food chain.”

I am a big advocate for migrating lawyers to digital versions of codes which are inherently more current and accurate since they are updated throughout the year rather then fixed in a print version which is often out of date on the day it is shipped out to purchasers.

Are There Errors In Other Lexis Publications? Are There Errors in LexisAdvance? The big question is…. are these editorial problems contained to this one particular publication or does it signal a larger systemic issue impacting  other books in the series or other Lexis publications.

Even more concerning is the prospect that the same errors  might reside in their online services. One would expect publishers to maximize editorial efficiency by maintaining a  “master” version of each statute in digital format which is updated as laws and regulations change and  which can be repurposed in other hard bound, paperback and ebook versions of each code.

The risks to lawyers in relying on a statute which is missing code sections can not be overstated.

Lexis Is Not the First and Won’t be the Last to Discover Errors in Publications. However LexisNexis executives need to reach out to their subscribers and provide assurances that they are engaged in a thorough investigation of the extent of the problem  and address how and when they will correct the errors. Last year Thomson Reuters disclosed that they had discovered “non material” caselaw errors in hundreds of cases. They controlled the “bad news” by issuing a press release and posting updates on their website about how they were identifying and correcting the errors. I urge LexisNexis executives to take a similar open approach with their customers in order to provide both the assurances and actions to address any  editorial problems  identified n their digital or print publications.