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Researching Environmental Law: Westlaw and Lexis Tips

General Guidelines for Using Westlaw and Lexis

Know how to narrow your search.

You have not conducted a good search for an actual problem when you have 10,000 results. The best ways to efficiently search in online databases are:

1) Use a controlled vocabulary like the West Key Number System or Lexis Advance Topics. 

Westlaw and Lexis index case law to help you find cases on a particular point of law, similar to using a print index in a book. After you select a key number (on Westlaw) or a topic (on Lexis), you can still narrow the jurisdiction and utilize search terms to search the full text of cases assigned to that topic. This is a highly efficient method of searching case law and is based on the print Digest, which you used during your first year at Loyola in Lawyering I. 

2) Use content areas or jurisdiction-specific materials.

Westlaw and Lexis will both let you narrow your search by content and/or jurisdiction. You should do this before and/or after your search. For example, if you know you are looking for controlling law in Louisiana on a Louisiana issue, make sure you are only searching that jurisdiction (plus any possible overlapping federal law). Are you looking for practice forms or information about a specific practice area? Select the practice-ready areas and narrow it down to an area like labor and employment. We'll show you how to do this in class, and come see us if you need more specific information. 

3) Use well-thought-out search terms.

One of the most important considerations for electronic searching is the words you use to conduct your search. Do you need a particular word/phrase? You can use quotes to search exact phrases. You may also want to use terms and connectors (otherwise known as Boolean or terms and connectors searching); the basic ones are: and, or, not. This short video discusses the importance of terms and connectors - although it was made for Lexis Advance, but its suggestions also apply Westlaw. Although this seems elementary, it can be so useful in helping you research efficiently - this will save huge amounts of time and (in practice) save money. If you need help determining search terms, talk with a law librarian. 

It would also help if you knew in advance what types of materials are in these databases - if you are lucky enough to be know where you'll be working and you have access to an electronic database, get familiar with it in law school while you still have access to all of the bells and whistles. Some firms may also have a library - they can be just as helpful as your school librarians, and they know exactly what resources are available through your firm. 

LibGuide for Westlaw and Lexis

The LibGuide linked below has more detailed information and sources about researching on Westlaw and Lexis.


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