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Using LexisNexis and Westlaw to Find Cases by Subject

Prepared by Frank Houdek, SIU Law Library — Fall 2008


Step 1: Choose database to use (e.g., state cases, federal cases)

  • use Westlaw Directory or LexisNexis Search by Source
  • select most specific database possible that will satisfy research needs

Step 2: Select key terms for the research issue

  • use Thesaurus (Westlaw) or Suggest Terms for My Search (Lexis) to come up with alternatives
  • Remember to:
    • use singular form of a word (retrieves both singular & plural, including irregular plurals and possessives)
    • use quotes cautiously
    • use hyphens (good-will retrieves good-will, good will, and goodwill on Westlaw)
    • use periods in acronyms (I.R.S. retrieves I.R.S., I R S, and IRS on Westlaw)
  • Consider alternative endings for terms
    • use root expander (!) at end of root term to retrieve word with any ending

Step 3: Select connectors to use between individual terms

  • the most effective connectors for searching in full-text documents are usually /p (within paragraph) and /s (within sentence)
  • Others include and (within same document), or (either term or both), +s, and +p
  • for phrases, Westlaw requires quotation marks, Lexis does not

Step 4: Consider limiting search to part of document

  • Use appropriate fields on Westlaw or segments on Lexis

Step 5: Consider whether a date restriction is appropriate

  • can limit to cases before or after a specified date, or between two specified dates
  • case use preset options (e.g., last 30 days, year to date, last 3 years, etc.)

Step 6: Run search


Step 7: Depending on results, choose among following:

  • review results of search
  • use Locate (Westlaw) or Focus (Lexis) to further search within results
  • edit search query and run new search
  • change databases and run same or edited search

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