April 12, 2011
Kathleen M. Sasala, Esq., Librarian

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Welcome to our program on Finding Cases Quickly on Lexis and Westlaw. There are many ways to use both Lexis and Westlaw for advanced searching, but sometimes, you may just need to find cases quickly. Typing in a citation provides the easiest entree into these databases, but if you only know part of the case information, such as the names of the parties, the year the case was decided, the court from which the case originated, the docket number, the lawyers on the case, and/or the subject matter, there are great tools that both Lexis and Westlaw provide to help you find what you are looking for. These are the tools we will cover today.

Lexis: The initial Lexis search screen provides a set of Quick Tools on the right hand side that includes a search box where you can type a citation for a case and then hit the Get a Doc button. Lexis does not require you to know the exact citation format for a case in order to be able to find it. If you are pretty sure about how to type a citation, you can always try and hopefully succeed. However, you do not need to worry about periods or capital letters because those do not matter.

If you want to be sure about how to type a citation or only have partial information about a case, the best method is to go to the tab at the top marked Get a Document. You can still find a case quickly there by typing a citation and hitting the Get button. In addition, if you have more than one case that you want to find and print quickly, you can choose the Get & Print link below the search box. That link will allow you to type multiple citations separated by a hard return or semicolon. You can combine your retrieval with Shepard’s reports for each case and either print or send them as email attachments to up to three (3) different email addresses.

Importantly for today, the Get a Document page provides three (3) additional options that we will explore in depth.

The first choice is to Get a Document By Citation. If you know the citation, but are not sure how to type it, you can use the wizard Lexis provides through the Citation Formats link located to the right of the citation search box. Clicking that hyperlink takes you to an easy-to-use search box where you can type the name of your authority (e.g., Ohio State Reports) or choose Option 2 for exploring publication titles alphabetically.

For instance, if I wanted to find the correct citation format for Ohio State Reports, Third (3rd), I would click on the letter O, choose the proper range of titles where my publication would be located, and scroll down to the hyperlink for my exact title. Each hyperlink takes you to a template where you can enter your pertinent data, in this case, a volume and page number in the Ohio State Reporter, 3rd. If you are unsure what data to enter, Lexis provides examples to help. Lexis can find cases based on many different citation formats, including public domain citations such as the “web cites” that are used in Ohio for cases posted to the Ohio Supreme Court’s web site (e.g., 2011-Ohio-1356).

The second choice is to Get a Document By Party Name, which provides an easy-to-use search template. Optimally, you will know both of the parties’ names, but if you only have one party, type that information in the first box. Then, you will need to toggle one of the jurisdictional radio buttons to designate the court of origin. Lexis offers the following jurisdictional options:

    • Federal and State Courts
    • Combined Federal Courts
    • US Supreme Court
    • US Courts of Appeals
    • US District Courts
    • US Special Courts
    • State Courts
Some of the drop down menus to the right require you to choose a particular court to further refine your search, but some of them allow a search of all courts within a type, e.g., all district courts. An optional date range can be added as an additional restriction. Lexis offers options to restrict by:
    • Previous Week
    • Previous Month
    • Previous 6 Months
    • Previous Year
    • Previous 2 Years
    • Previous 5 Years
    • Previous 10 Years
    • Date Range

We will use the example of the landmark case of Roe v. Wade decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1973. Typing in only the names of the parties and toggling the radio button for US Supreme Court brings up all 9 of the reported decisions in the case. Adding a date restriction from 01/01/1973 to 12/31/1973 brings up only 2 cases, the Supreme Court’s landmark decision and its subsequent decision later that year denying rehearing.

If the names of your parties are too common, or the parties have been involved in a lot of litigation, you can refine your search using the Focus tool. As an example, this might be the situation if you are looking for an opinion involving Smith v. Jones in the jurisdiction covering All State Courts, Combined. Since this search nets over 800 results, you would want to use the Focus option to narrow down the results. While you can add terms in the Focus box with Boolean operator AND or use other advanced search techniques there as well, the easiest way to refine your search is by clicking on the Advanced hyperlink. That option will give you the chance to: insert additional search terms; use other search connectors, wildcards, and search techniques; and search by 31 Segments, the most common and popular of which are:

    • Cite
    • Counsel
    • Court
    • Disposition
    • Dissent
    • Headnotes
    • Judges
    • Number
    • Opinion
    • Summary
    • Syllabus
    • Writtenby

The third option for finding cases with partial information is to use a docket number. This tab provides another template where you can type in the docket number, choose a jurisdiction and add an optional date range with the same parameters as are available for the Party Name search described above. Using the case of Roe v. Wade again, typing in the docket number of 70-18 shows how easy it is to find a case with only a docket number and jurisdiction. You can add a date if you want, but remember that the date in the case number usually stands for the year the case was filed, but not necessarily the date that it was decided.

Once you have found the case you want, you can print, download, email, or fax it, depending on the plan you have. The Law Library’s plan permits members to utilize all of these options.

Westlaw: The initial Westlaw search screen offers easy access to cases when you know the citation. Although the Find by citation search box on the left hand side of the screen does not require capitals or punctuation, it does prefer a volume number, a publication and a page number. Westlaw alsos provides a few quick templates through the Find Using a Template link below the search box for decisions with the following formats:

    • S.Ct. (U.S. Supreme Court)
    • F. 3d (Federal Reporter, 3rd series)
    • F. 2d (Federal Reporter, 2nd series)
    • F. (Federal Reporter)
    • F. Supp.2d (Federal Supplement, 2nd series)
    • F. Supp. (Federal Supplement)
    • U.S.C.A. (United States Code Annotated)
    • C.F.R. (Code of Federal Regulations)
    • F.R. (Federal Register)

If these options are not what you need, try this trick. If you do not know the citation format for a case, just type the name of the reporter in the search box, hit the Go button or the enter key, and Westlaw will bring up a template for you to use in conducting your search. This trick does not always work if you spell a case reporter wrong or do not provide enough information for Westlaw to locate your search template, but it is worth the try.

To locate all citation formats, you will need to click the link at the top of the page for Find & Print. This page provides a link to the full Publications List which you can search for publications that contain your term or start with your term. Searching the phrase Ohio State brings up a hit list containing hyperlinks to templates for the Ohio State Reports, Ohio State Reports 2nd and Ohio State Reports 3rd. Westlaw will also retrieve templates for more odd citation formats such as Ohio Public Domain Citations. Once you find the citation format you want, you can then click on the hyperlink for a template to use for your search.

If you want to find and print more than one case quickly, Westlaw allows you to enter up to 20 citations in the larger search box in the center of the screen and separate each of them by a semicolon or hard return. You can include the KeyCite reports for each of your cases, and print your results in either html or pdf format.

A second way Westlaw allows users to search for cases is by party name. To do this, click on the link for Find a case by party name. You can use this search when you know one or both of the parties’ names, but you will need to toggle a radio button to select a jurisdiction or topic in order to continue. Jurisdictions include:

    • All U.S. Federal and State Cases
    • All Federal Courts
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • U.S. Courts of Appeal
    • U.S. District Courts
    • Specialized Courts
    • State Courts
    • State Reporters

Some of the jurisdictions provide further refinements in the drop down menus to the right or allow you to search all courts within a category.

Federal Topics include:

    • Americans with Disabilities
    • Bankruptcy
    • Commercial Law
    • Environmental Law
    • Government Contracts
    • Immigration Law
    • Insurance
    • Intellectual Property
    • Labor & Employment
    • Securities Law
    • Social Security
    • Tax Law

State Topics include:

    • Americans with Disabilities
    • Commercial Law
    • Criminal
    • Environmental Law
    • Insurance
    • Labor & Employment
    • Securities Law
    • Tax Law

Using the case of Roe v. Wade again in this search mode returns 13 documents in reverse chronological order, including the main decision in the case and the subsequent U.S. Supreme Court decision denying rehearing.

If the names of your parties are too common, or the parties have been involved in a lot of litigation, you can refine your search using the Edit Search box at the top of the page. As an example, this might be the situation if you are looking for an opinion involving Smith v. Jones in the jurisdiction covering All U.S. Federal and State Cases. Since this search nets over 1,800 results, you can narrow down your results by adding search terms with Boolean operators, connectors, and expanders in the Edit Search box, or you can click on the hyperlink for Edit Search to bring up the full panoply of search capabilities available from Westlaw. These include the ability to use the same Boolean operators, connectors (& for AND, or a space for OR) or expanders (! or *), add date restrictions, and/or utilize Field searching.

Westlaw offers the following date options:

    • After
    • Before
    • Between
    • Specific
    • Last
    • Today
    • Last 30 Days
    • Last 60 Days
    • Last 90 Days
    • Year to Date
    • This Year and Last Year
    • Last 3 Years
    • Last 10 years

Westlaw also offers 24 Fields, including the following most common and popular options:

    • Court
    • Words-Phrases
    • Judge
    • Attorney
    • Full-Text
    • Docket-Number
    • Title

Although Westlaw does not offer an independent option for searching by docket number, it is one of the Field options you can utilize once you enter party names and want to refine your search with the Edit Search tool.

Once you find the case you want, you can print, download, email or fax it, depending on the plan you have. The Law Library’s plan permits patrons to directly print and download from Westlaw, and staff can help members email items they have downloaded.

1. Lexis and Westlaw are registered trademarks of their respective legal research vendors. The Law Library subscribes to these products and is providing the within information through a Lunch & Learn Program to help members better utilize these services and their membership benefits. The Law Library thanks Lexis and Westlaw for the use of their products.