Utilizing Legal Research Resources


Research — Basic or applied method of increasing the knowledge by finding new information.”
-Black’s Law Dictionary

During law school, the research tools available to you will become your best friends.  Honestly, I feel like I used at least one of them every day during my 1L year and my summer internship.  The trio of legal research resources every law student is exposed to consists of LexisNexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg Law.  Everyone has their own favorite, but it’s good to know how to use all three because most employers only pay for one.

Overview of the Trio

So this is actually my favorite of the resources, probably because you earn points for every time you search and can redeem them on super awesome stuff, like Kate Spade purses.  But on the serious side, they have a ton of great features, like a litigation suite where you can look up attorneys or judges interview you with and see what cases they litigated or wrote opinions for.  It also has a great feature where you Shepardize® the cases you find.  Basically this feature tells you if that case has been overruled by another case or statute.  This is essential to make sure you’re citing current law, but can also allow you to find cases which cite that particular case.


Westlaw seems to be the resource most firms and judges use.  It has similar features to LexisNexis but it has some ones specific to Westlaw.  One of the most helpful is called West Key Numbers.  Basically how this works is the editors at Westlaw distill a case down into a few key points.  Then they index those key points into a giant outline that organizes the points by topic area.  If you find an awesome point in a case and want to find more cases that have that particular point cited, you can click on the “key” and you’ll find cases with the same points.  Westlaw also has a similar feature to Shepard’s but it’s a little different.


Honestly, this is probably the resource I know the least about.  I rarely use this for actual legal research, but it operates similarly to the rest of the resources.  There’s one thing that Bloomberg does better than the other sources, and that is provide templates for contracts, employee handbooks, and other sample forms.  This is great if you have a practical component of classes like Property or Contracts or for practical writing courses.  Also, you can find documents from specific course dockets or legislative history that may not be available elsewhere.  That feature is great if you’re researching a specific case or statute in depth.

Determining Search Parameters

In all of these resources, it helps to create parameters for your search prior to actually signing in to any of them.  To begin, I would make a list of the type of source needed, jurisdiction, your broad search term, any narrowing facts, and any time parameters.  This allows you to search with your broad term and then use the other parameters to narrow the search within the broad search results.  The great thing about this is narrowing a search and even searching within a search is free so you won’t incur more charges for work at a firm that pays per search.  Also all of these resources have an option to put documents in folders so that you can come back to your research later.

Each of these resources has their strong points and low points, and which you like better can be a matter of preference.  There are also some other free resources that are available through state bar associations and through your school.  Which one of these legal resources is your favorite?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Follow @ Instagram

Blondegalese is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
Back to Top