Key Numbers in WestlawNext

February 14, 2012

This month several questions have come in from small firm attorneys asking how to use the West Key Number System in WestlawNext. 

The West Key Number System is the master classification system of U.S. law and widely regarded as the cornerstone of effective legal research. For over 100 years, West Topic and Key Numbers have offered legal researchers a convenient way to hone in on a particular legal issue and quickly find on-point cases.

For example, Key Number 306 Postal Service includes cases that pertain to mailing, dead letters, correspondence, postage, and post offices…even when the case or headnote does not contain the language “postal service.”

I chatted with Julie Rotschafer, an account manager for small law firms and former reference attorney, about the best ways to access and leverage Key Numbers in the new WestlawNext platform.  Here’s what she recommends to get the most out of Key Numbers in your WestlawNext research:

Westlaw Insider:  Let’s start at the beginning.  How do you find Key Numbers in WestlawNext?

Julie Rotschafer:  WestlawNext offers four quick, direct routes so you can get there from any point in your research session:

  • Click on the Tools tab in the Browse section, then click the West Key Number System page
  • Add the West Key Numbers page to your Favorites for even quicker access
  • After running a search, Narrow your case results using the Key Number filter to the left
  • Note the Key Number on an individual document, and click the number to see more

WI:  How else is the Key Number taxonomy leveraged in WestlawNext?

JR:  In addition to using West Key Number taxonomy separately, as I just described, keep in mind that WestSearch [technology available only in WestlawNext] inherently uses the West Key Number System to deliver the best results. For over 100 years, West attorney editors have summarized and classified the law. Using the Key Numbers, WestSearch can identify those topics of law in your search and give you even better results.

WI:  Getting into some of the user details, what does WestlawNext add to the functionality of the Key Number System?

JR:  I see a lot more flexibility when you use the Key Numbers in WestlawNext.  Right off the bat, when you search for Headnotes in a certain topic, you’re able to search up to three jurisdictions at a time.

Then, it’s easier to navigate the Key Number hierarchy in WestlawNext.  And when you click the narrowest level of the hierarchy, WestlawNext automatically runs the search and displays the resulting Headnotes.

WI:  What do you show users when you lead a training on WestlawNext?

JR:  I always show users how to filter cases by Key Number, using the “narrow” function in the left pane.  Using the filters, you blend your Key Number search right into your basic search workflow.  In fact, I recommend using the Key Number filter rather than the Topic filter when you want more precise results.

Only the West Key Number System offers the most complete, authoritative taxonomy for identifying case law on point. Julie left us with some Key Number tips, for average and advanced WestlawNext users:

The basics of Key Numbers on WestlawNext:

  • Search or browse, as you prefer
    • West Key Number System page
      • Search all or select content using the Search box at the top of the
      • Click within the hierarchy to browse for relevant Topics and Key Numbers
      • Use the search box on the right to run a search within the Key Number titles
      • Click the Information icon to see a description of included subjects
    • If you’re viewing a list of Headnote results, but you’d like to see the results for slightly different Key Number, simply look at the top of the list to find a breadcrumb trail of Key Numbers.  Click to go back to the point where you’d like to diverge.
    • Document Headnotes also provide easy access to Key Number-specific results, relevant to the document’s jurisdiction.

Advanced tips for WestlawNext users:

  •  Leverage the West Key Number System to see frequently cited cases on a topic.  Start with an advanced search for a Key Number, then sort the results by “most cited.”
  • By default, the West Headnotes section shows only the Headnote text and a Key Number icon (roll over the icon to see the full list of Key Numbers).  But by clicking Change View, you can change your default to see all relevant Key Numbers in addition to the Headnote text.

For additional training and Key Number tricks, visit the Small Law Firm Resource Center to schedule a personal training or view a self-paced online lesson.