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Legal Databases How-to Search: Westlaw Campus

Search tips and techniques for LexisNexis Academic, Westlaw, HeinOnline, and ProQuest Congressional


Westlaw contains the full-text of a variety of legal information:

  • Federal & State Cases
  • Federal Statutes, Codes, & Regulations
  • State Statutes, Codes, & Regulations
  • Law Reviews
  • Legal Reference
  • Key Search (See box to the right)
  • European Union materials
  • Famous Documents
  • Guides on various legal topics

Find a Case - Federal & State

Using Find (left-hand column):
  • Enter the citation of the case or the party names to retrieve the full-text of the case.
Advanced or Basic Search
  • Enter your search terms in either the Advanced or Basic Search
  • Under Select Databases, check the box next to the cases you would like to search (e.g., All Federal Cases, All State Cases, etc...)
  • Note: If you want to search for cases from a specific state, you must choose a state from the drop-down box next to "State Cases."

Find a Statute - Federal & State

You can search by Terms, or Browse Table of Contents (TOC)
  • By Terms
    • Enter terms in either the Advanced or Basic Search box
    • Scroll down to "Statutes and Regulations" and select one or more sources (e.g., US Code Annotated, Code of Federal Regulations, Federal Register, All State Statutes Annotated, etc...)
    • Click Search
  • By Table of Contents (TOC)
    • Note: This option is only available with the US Code Annotated and the Code of Federal Regulations
    • Click "Table of Contents"
    • Expand TOC sections by clicking on “+”

Find a Law Review

  • Enter your search terms in either the Advanced or Basic Search
  • Under Select Databases, check the box next to "Journals and Law Reviews"
  • You must choose either "All Journals and Law Reviews" or a single state from the drop-down box
  • Click Search

Find a Legal Reference

American Jurisprudence (aka AmJur, a legal encyclopedia)

  • You can search by Terms or by Table of Contents (TOC)
    • By Terms
      • Enter search terms in the Advanced or Basic Search
      • Check the box next to American Jurisprudence 2d in the "Select Databases" section
      • Click Search
    • By Table of Contents (TOC)
      • Click Table of Contents next to American Jurisprudence 2d
      • Expand sections by clicking on "+"

American Law Reports

  • ALRs contain “mini-treatises” (called annotations). Each annotation summarizes the state of the law on a single legal issue.
  • Enter search terms using Advanced or Basic Search
  • Click the Checkbox next to "American Law Reports" in the "Encyclopedias and Law Reviews" section
  • Click Search

Search Techniques

When you use Basic Search, you enter a description of your issue using plain English. Your results display the documents that have the greatest likelihood of matching the concepts in your search, without regard to the date of the document. If you want to limit your result to recent documents, simply add a date restriction. You retrieve a maximum of 100 documents using Basic Search. NOTE: You can NOT use Boolean limiters or truncation when doing a Basic Search.

Advanced Search lets you create a more precise search by using the Boolean AND, OR, and NOT connectors. When you use Advanced Search to search for documents that have specific dates, such as news articles and cases, the documents in your result are ranked by date and are displayed in reverse chronological order (i.e., the most recent document is displayed first). With Advanced Search, you retrieve all documents that meet your search criteria.

KeySearch & KeyCite

KeySearch is a research tool that helps you find cases and secondary sources within a specific area of the law. KeySearch guides you through the selection of terms from a classification system based on the West Key Number System and then uses the key numbers and their underlying concepts to run a query, which was created by a West attorney-editor, for you. Click Go under KeySearch and follow the on-screen directions.

How the Topic and Key Number System Works
The Topic and Key Number System is a big outline or index that works like this:

  • The American system of law is broken down into Major Topics -- there are more than 400 topics, such as Civil Rights, Pretrial Procedure, and Treaties.
  • Each of those topics is divided, in greater and greater detail, into individual units that represent a specific legal concept -- like steps in an outline. There can be up to eight steps in the hierarchy to reach the narrowest concept.
  • Each of the narrowest concepts (there are approximately 100,000 of them) has a unique number that allows you to find it on the outline. This number is called a specific Key Number.

To use KeySearch

  • Click "Go" under KeySearch in the left-hand column
  • Browse the topics or enter a search term (left-hand column)
  • Once you have narrowed the topic down to the lowest level, you'll be prompted to search one of the following:
    • Cases with or without West Headnotes, choosing State and/or Federal cases to search
    • American Jurisprudence 2nd
    • American Law Reports
    • Journals & Law Reviews (JLR)
  • You can enter search terms if you want to narrow the topic even further but it isn't required
  • Click Search
  • Your results will contain only cases that are relevant to that topic

To KeyCite a Document

  • NOTE: You can KeyCite any document in Westlaw. If you don't see the KeyCite symbol at the top left of the document, then there is no KeyCite history. However, be aware that many of the citations may not be available in full-text under our subscription plan.
  • Once in your document, click the KeyCite symbol which will be at the top left of the document
  • You'll be taken to a page with the KeyCite history of the document

KeyCite Symbols