Finding Zombie Statutes on Westlaw

October 31, 2014

Zombie StatutesIt’s Halloween, and that means it’s time to protect yourself from zombies.  Not with sacred water or extra bullets, but with a good antivirus program and an indictment.  Because the zombies this time aren’t undead – they’re machines, they’re the subject of laws, and recognizing them can make the user’s research experience easier.  The key to this is the Index and the Colloquial Terms and Popular Names List, an in-house reference created by the Index Attorney Editors to collect these phrases in one place for use with future laws.

The term “Zombies” as used in the Colloquial Terms Table refers to programs that take control of computers for certain illegal purposes (such as charges for unauthorized services), see e.g. Rhode Island, Gen.Laws 1956, § 11-52.2-3.  What sets a term in the Colloquial Terms Table apart is that it may be found nowhere in the statute.  Instead, the terms are found through popular media (as in Caylee’s Law, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1.3, or Reparative Therapy, West’s Ann.Cal.Bus. & Prof.Code § 865) or professional literature (such as the term Decanting [South Carolina 62-7-816A]).  Upon discovery, these terms are incorporated into a table maintained by the Index team and used to describe these laws in addition to our normal taxonomy. This in turn makes it easier to find law based on common shorthand used to describe them when using the statutes Index or searching on WestlawNext.

What makes these useful to the customer is that these are terms they will be familiar with.  If they hear news reports about Romeo and Juliet laws [Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 62.301], they can locate that law using just the phrase they heard about.  If they read about sexting (Texas, Penal Code § 43.261) in a professional publication, they can easily see if their state has a similar crime.  The use of these terms and phrases also simplifies multijurisdictional practice, as it helps the same concept be described in different state products using the same commonly used language.

The Colloquial Terms and Popular Names List is only as useful as it continues to incorporate current developments in the law, and that is where you can help us help our customers.  If you become aware of a new law that is being referred to a certain way in your jurisdiction’s media or other legal publications, bring it to an indexer’s attention!  You can contact Mike Scheller at We’ll love it, the users will love it, and the swarm of undead PCs will love it also.  For these and more examples, you can find your state’s online index and Popular Name Table on WestlawNext by going to your jurisdiction’s Statutes and Court Rules and selecting the index under Tools & Resources.