Sometimes Ignorance is Not Bliss

Guest blog on Documate website July 23, 2019

The legal system in the United States in continually evolving. The law is absolute until legislators or the judiciary decide to make a change. In addition, precedential decisions handed down from the courts today, generally reflect a legal issue that was filed months, if not years ago.This means that every decision we get today is based on events, facts and  circumstances well in the rear view mirror of today’s events, facts and circumstances.  

There is a disconnect between what the law is and what it will be. So, how do we stay up to date and close the delta between what happened and what’s walking in the door today? Imagine if the state changed the highway speed limit from 65 to 50 and didn’t post signs, didn’t make announcements in the paper or on the internet. Would it be fair to the drivers caught “speeding” who were unaware of the change in the speed limit law?Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

To complicate matters, thousands of statutes and regulations change every year at the state and the federal levels and sometimes these law conflict with each other. How do we reconcile real world conflict between state and federal laws and state vs. other state laws?

For example, there is something called the Drug Free Workplace Act which requires some federal contractors and all federal grantees to agree that they will provide drug-free workplaces as a precondition of receiving a contract or grant from a Federal agency.

Does this mean that if you are a service provider to the federal government, you cannot employ any person who tests positive for pot? Do employers have to conduct random drug screenings and make the results available to the federal government even in states where weed is legal? When an employee who smokes weed legally and tests positive for it, does the company have to disclose? Do they have to fire the employee? What if the company is located in an area with high demand for this type of employee? What are the legal and economic ramifications? Is this difference reconcilable?

This is only one basic example of how staying up to date is complicated. What is the right way for legal professionals to follow “legal current events” through the system and keep up with everything? What about citizens, with little or no knowledge of the legal system at any level?

It seems to me that we need a process to allow legal practitioners and regular every day citizens to stay current. We need tools that notify professionals and non-professionals in a context they will understand, when there is a change in the law. Some kind of information system that would provide outbound updates. With the use of smart phones and social media is there a better way to know when a law changes or what to do when laws conflict? I’d love to hear.

About the Author: Steve Tover is the CEO of AnyLaw is a free service that provides a no-cost alternative solution to the unnecessary and exclusionary expense of legal research.