Find Cases Faster: How to Search Editorial Enhancements On WestlawNext

June 24, 2014

Legal solutions TOTWHave you ever been frustrated by seeing your search terms mentioned in passing or not being a substantive part of the cases in your results list?  There is no need to spin your wheels when the vast majority of cases on WestlawNext have already been read, summarized, and classified according to topic.  Follow the strategies below to research more efficiently.

Searching Headnotes on WestlawNext

Headnotes are summaries of important points of law written by Attorney Editors who have read the cases. Let them do the work for you! Searching Headnotes will help ensure the cases in your results actually have a discussion of the issue for which you are searching. If your terms appear in Headnotes, it is more likely that there will be discussion of your issue or a related issue in the text of the case.

To search Headnotes on WestlawNext, click on “Cases” on the home page and then click “advanced” to the right of the search bar:

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Once you are viewing the “advanced” search template, you can input search terms into the box corresponding to the Headnote field. Let’s search for the elements of breach of contract:

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Notice how the search terms we entered showed up in the global search box at the top of the screen. After running the search, you will see how the cases show our search terms in the Headnotes. 968 F.Supp.2d 1133 is an example:

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Headnotes are a great way to increase the likelihood that the cases you find will have a discussion of your terms. In addition to Headnotes, there is another method you can use to help ensure the topics you are searching for will be discussed in the cases in your search results.


Most cases in WestlawNext are organized into topics and subtopics within the West Key Number System. Attorney Editors read cases and then classify them according to topic under the Key Number system. Each topic is given a Number.  This editorial enhancement makes it easy to search for cases falling under a particular topic.

As you can see in the case below, Key Numbers are located to the right of the Headnotes. They are organized with the most general topic at the top and get narrower as they descend. For example, in the case below, you can see Topic Number 95 for “Contracts” and then subdivisions below it: 95VI (Actions for Breach) and 95k326 (Grounds for Action).  The Grounds for Action Key Number is a subdivision of Actions for Breach, which in turn is a subdivision of the topic Contracts.

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There are two ways to search by topic: 1) searching for the topic associated with a Key Number, and 2) searching for the Key Number itself to bring back cases associated with that Key Number. Of course, if you know the Key Number you may use that in your search.  If you do not know the Key Number, but have a general idea of your issue and want to find cases that fall under that general topic, you may search the topic field in a way similar to the searching Headnotes by using the advanced search template.

Let’s do some research on the Statute of Frauds by running a topical search for “part performance” using the advanced search template. Scroll down to the bottom of the advanced search template to find the Topic search box:

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The results show this case: 99 So.3d 316. If we open that case, we can see where our search terms appeared:

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As you can see, part performance shows up under the topics listed to the right. Once you find a Key Number and want to search for all cases falling under that Key Number, just click on the link for that Key Number:

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Notice that even though our initial topics search had all state and federal as the jurisdiction, it now shows the 230 cases under this topic from the jurisdiction of the case we were just viewing. Let’s click “change” and select all state and federal as our jurisdiction:

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We are now viewing all state and federal cases dealing with our topic. The language we see for each case is from the Headnote that falls under the topic for which we searched. Notice how the cases pick up on the concept of part performance, even if they do not use that exact phrase. This is a great way to find cases addressing your issue. Please note that a “Search within results” from the Key Number page will search the Headnotes:

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If you are not sure if your concept would show up in the Topic or Headnote of a case, but want it to appear in at least one of those, you can search the Digest. The Digest searches both at the same time:

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If we select a case from the results list, our search terms may appear in the Topic, the Headnote, or both:

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These are just some of the powerful editorial enhancements WestlawNext offers. Becoming familiar with these tools will enable you to become a more effective researcher. Of course, if you have any questions, please do not forget to call or chat with the Westlaw Reference Attorneys. Contact information is at the bottom of nearly every screen on WestlawNext:

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