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Efficient Online Searching: Best Practices

For paid and free internet sources.

General Rule for Online Research

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. 

These systems index case law to help you find cases on a particular point of law. It is similar to using a print index in a book. After you select a key number or a topic, you can still narrow the jurisdiction and use 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.

On Westlaw and Lexis you can narrow your search by content and/or jurisdiction. 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 relevant 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. 

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 or phrase? You can use quotes to search exact phrases. You may also want to search using terms and connectors (otherwise known as Boolean 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, it is useful to understanding Boolean searching in others databases. 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. 

Help with Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law

There are many resources to help you learn how to use Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg. Check out the guide below for research help, representative contact information, and links for more help.

Video Guides

Lexis has a series of useful videos that you can browse or view via playlists, organized by topic. 



Westlaw also has a good series of videos that will help you learn to use its resources.


You can use Google - it is your friend! But be aware that it has limits. If you are looking for a specific document that is relatively frequently utilized, it is highly likely you will find it (and even from a reputable source). If you are looking for secondary sources, they will be more difficult to find on Google - partially because there are A LOT of them, but also because many are only available from subscription websites. Government documents can usually be found in this way, but it may take more digging on a government website. The ability to access government information also depends on the transparency and government publication laws of a particular state. When you are doing general research on Google, rather than searching for a particular document, you should default to Google Scholar and use the advance search capabilities that will help you narrow your search.

Google Scholar Search


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