Thursday, January 27, 2005

Research Tip - Searching Just the Text of Statutes

Tuesday's CALR tip on printing just the case or statute prompted the question of whether you can search just the text of a statutory code without also searching all the case annotations, secondary source citations, and other editorial enhancements. The default search on both Westlaw and LexisNexis is to search the annotated code, including all the editorial enhancements. But it is possible to search just the unannotated code, which limits the documents retrieved to statutory sections in which your search terms appear in the statute itself.

Frequently it is helpful to run your search in the annotated code. The legislature may not have used the same terms when it drafted the statute as the terms you use to search for the statute. If you search the annotated code, and a case annotation about a statutory section includes your terms, you will still retrieve the statutory section cited by the case even if your terms do not appear in the statute itself.

However, if your search retrieves too many results because your search terms appear in annotations for many statutory sections, it may be helpful to run your search in just the substantive text of the statute itself. A search of the unannotated code will retrieve only the statutory sections in which your search terms appear in the statutory language.

On Westlaw, in order to search just the statute itself you must use Fields to limit your search. After you choose a statutory code as your database, your search screen will include a list of searchable Fields for that code. Scroll down and double-click on Substantive-doc near the end of the list. Westlaw will add "SD()" to the search box. Put the search terms you want to appear in statutory language within the parentheses. If you remember that SD is the abbreviation for the Substantive-doc Field, you can save time by keying "SD(your search terms)" directly into the search box.

On LexisNexis, in order to search just the statute itself you must use Segments to limit your search. After you choose a statutory code as your source, your search screen will display the Table of Contents for that code. You can search the full-text of the code using the small search box at the top by clicking on the radio button for "Full-text of source documents." But to see a list of Segments, you should click on Advanced to the right of the Search button.

On the Advanced search screen for an annotated code on LexisNexis, you will see an area labeled "Restrict by Segment." Click the down arrow to the right of the "Select a Segment" menu box and choose UNANNO. In the text box to the right of the Segment menu, which should now display UNANNO, enter at least one search term, then click on the Add button or press Enter. LexisNexis will display "UNANNO (search terms)" in the search box. Click the Search button to run the search. If you remember that UNANNO is the abbreviation for the unannotated Segment, you can save time by keying "UNANNO (your search terms)" directly into the Full-text search box at the top of the Table of Contents screen.

Previous Research Tips:

Topic and Key Number Searches on Westlaw
Think Small
Searching Is Not Research
Don't Get Caught Without a Search Engine

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Research Tip - Topic and Key Number Searches on Westlaw

In Lawyering Skills I, first semester, you learned how to find cases by subject using the topic and key numbers in West's digests. Once you had a topic and key number on point for your research project, you could find cases in any U.S. court or jurisdiction by choosing the appropriate digest. You identified topic and key numbers by starting in the Descriptive Word Index of a West's digest or by noting the topic and key numbers used in the headnotes of a case from a West's reporter.

Another way you could determine the topic number for a Westlaw topic and key number search is listed in the drop-down menu in the upper right corner of the Westlaw screens. Click the down arrow to the right of the "More" menu box to see a list of specialized Westlaw tools. From the list choose Key Numbers & Digest.

The Custom Digest screen that comes up is an expandable outline of the West's digest topics. Scroll down to find the topic that you want to search, then click the plus sign to the left of the topic name to expand the topical outline to the next level. For example, if you click the arrow to the left of topic 78, Civil Rights, you will see six sub-topical groupings of key numbers. Click the plus sign to the left of one of these subtopics to see a list of key numbers within that subtopic. Some of the key numbers will also have plus signs to the left, indicating even further subdivisions.

Once you identify a topic and key number you want to search, you can click on Directory in the gray bar across the top to choose a case database in which to run your search. Use the topic number and key number in Westlaw format, e.g. 78k1301 where 78 represents the topic Civil Rights and 1301 is the key number, alone or as an additional search term.

In the alternative, at any point in your exploration of the outline, you can select one or more topics, subtopics, or key numbers by clicking in the box to the far left. Once you have selected the digest entries you want to include in your search, click on the "Search selected" button at the bottom. The Custom Digest screen comes up displaying your digest selections with an option to delete individual entries. You can also choose whether to search "Most Recent Cases" or "Most Cited Cases"; whether to include ALR, law reviews, and other references in your search results; from which jurisdictions and courts to retrieve cases; whether to add search terms; and whether to restrict by date.

Once you have made your choices on the Custom Digest screen, click the Search button. The Custom Digest search retrieves case headnotes with links to the cases in full-text and to any statutes cited. If you checked the box to include "ALR, law reviews, and other references" in your search results, you will also see secondary source citations, with links to the full-text documents if they are available on Westlaw.

Previous Research Tips:

Think Small
Searching Is Not Research
Don't Get Caught Without a Search Engine

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

CALR Tip – Printing

When you retrieve a case or statute on Westlaw or LexisNexis, you get not just the case, but also a number of editorial enhancements added by the company. The enhancements are helpful for expanding your research, but what if you just want to print the case or statute without the enhancements? Can you do that? Yes, you can.

On Westlaw, to print just the case or statute itself you must limit the display before you go into Print Doc. In the lower right corner, click on Tools and select Limit Display by Fields. To display/print a case without synopsis and headnotes, click in the box to the left of Full-Text and then click on the OK button at the bottom of the screen. To print a statute without notes, case annotations or other references, click in the box to the left of Substantive-Doc and then click on the OK button at the bottom of the screen.

On LexisNexis, you can either customize the document view and then print, or go into print and then customize the view. To customize the document view before printing, click on Custom in the upper left corner. To print a case without case summary, headnotes or core terms, select the Opinions segment and click on the Go button. To print a statute without notes, case annotations or other references, select the Unanno segment and click on the Go button. If you go into the LexisNexis print options first, choose Custom from the Document View drop-down menu and select the segments to be printed.

Monday, January 24, 2005

State Prevails in Illinois v. Caballes

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled today, in Illinois v. Caballes, that police did not violate the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures when they called in a trained drug-detecting dog during a lawful traffic stop. The dog-sniff was conducted entirely outside the defendant's car after he was stopped for speeding. For more information, see the parties' briefs, from the ABA Division for Public Education, and a transcript of the oral arguments, from the Court's web site.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Research Tip – Think Small

The number and variety of legal research resources available today is good news for researchers, but there is a down side to this wealth of information. With so many places to look for legal information, research can sometimes seem like looking for a needle in a haystack. In the coming months, we will post research tips here to help legal researchers deal with this information overload and find what they need efficiently and cost-effectively.

Our first Research Tip of 2005 is: "If you have to look for a needle, look for it in the smallest haystack possible."

One of the first steps you will have to take in any research project is deciding where to look. To save time and money, you should start with the smallest or most specific resource. For example, if you are looking for Illinois state court cases, search a LexisNexis or Westlaw database of Illinois state cases, use a print digest such as the Illinois Digest that only includes Illinois cases, or go to the web site of the Illinois Supreme Court. If you start in a more general resource, you will waste time going through search results that include information you don't need.

Choosing the right place to start your research is especially important if you are using an online service like Westlaw or LexisNexis, because starting in the wrong place can waste your client's money as well as your time. Larger databases, such as combination databases that include cases from many courts and many jurisdictions, are frequently billed at a much higher rate than smaller databases.

Finally, there are special considerations when doing research on the web. Using a general search engine to search the web for cases would likely retrieve hundreds or even thousands of documents, and most of them would not even be cases. More importantly, before you rely upon legal information you find on the web, you need to be sure that it is accurate and reliable. One way to save time retrieving cases on the web, and to be sure they are accurate and reliable, is to retrieve them from an authoritative site such as the court's web site.

We will return to the topic of evaluating internet information in later research tips.

Previous Research Tips:

Searching Is Not Research
Don't Get Caught Without a Search Engine

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Blog Community - Another Reason to Read and Write Blogs

I have posted before about the advantages of reading and writing blogs, here and here. But I haven't written about the community of bloggers, maybe because I considered that to be "just" an added benefit.

Unlike a listserv, to which large numbers of people post on a wide variety of topics, blogs usually have one or a few contributors who post about a pre-defined topic or topics. When you read a blog, you begin to know the bloggers who post to it. And when you see a post that inspires you to contact the author, you feel comfortable doing it. I have contacted other bloggers about an idea or tip they shared, and I have received email about things I posted to the Law Dawg Blawg.

Some of the bloggers with whom I have communicated are people I probably never would have met otherwise. And that is more than "just" an added benefit. Bloggers share their knowledge and ideas with anyone who wants to read it, and some of them have interests and work similar to yours. You will learn something from reading blogs, and something you share on your blog will help someone else. The blogging community is a valuable resource to have in your professional toolkit.

Last week, as I was laboring to finish a big project and get ready for the beginning of classes this week, I received a telephone call from Matt Homan, the author of the [non]billable hour. He just called to thank us for linking to his blog and to encourage us to keep up what we have started at the Law Dawg Blawg.

Matt could not have called at a better time. Looking ahead at all I have to do over the coming months, I had been wondering if I had the time to continue blogging. After our short conversation I felt re-energized, and I resolved not only to keep the blawg going, but also to find the time to post more often and contribute to the community.

Matt's call also reminded me that I have been remiss in thanking bloggers and others who share what they know and help me to do my job better, including Matt. So I also resolved to let more people know that I appreciate their work. A little late for New Year's resolutions, but there they are.

Thanks for reading our blawg. Are you ready to start a blog of your own?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Best Reference Sites of 04

Are you a reference book junkie? If so, then you'll be interested in the sixth annual list of "Best Free Reference Web Sites 2004" compiled by a component of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) of the American Library Association. Included among its entries are "" , which provides searchable access to the Compact Oxford English Dictionary among other things; Earthtrends: the Environmental Information Portal, which focuses on issues of sustainable development and the environment; and ThomasRegister, which offers a a searchable database of North American manufacturing companies and products.

SOURCE: Inter Alia

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Value of Blogs

According to a recent report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, blog readership jumped to 27% of internet users in 2004; 8 million American adults say they have created blogs; but 62% of internet users do not know what a blog is.

If you are reading this blog posting, we can probably assume you know what a blog is. But why should you spend some of your busy schedule reading blogs, or even writing one? Matthew W. Homann writes about why he blogs and how it has paid off for him at his blog on revolutionizing the practice of law, the [non]billable hour.