Searching Secondary Sources More Efficiently

August 29, 2014

Law school blog 5Finding the document you need within Secondary Sources may take time, especially if you are starting a new research project and are searching through all Secondary Sources on WestlawNext. Here are some tips to make this process easier.

Narrow the Results List Using Filters

The filters are especially helpful when you are looking for a Secondary Source from a particular jurisdiction. For example, try setting your jurisdiction to California and then run a search for “equitable estoppel”:

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As you can see, our search yields many secondary sources. To narrow this list to California secondary sources only, click “Secondary Sources” on the left. Once in the results list, you will see a jurisdictional filter on the left side of the screen. Even though our jurisdiction is already set to California, our results are designed to be over-inclusive to help ensure we get what we need.  Click the plus symbol to the left of “State,” check the box for California, and finish by clicking “Apply filters”:

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Notice the other filters on the left that allow you to select a specific Publication Type, such as ALR or Restatements of the Law. You can further refine your search by selecting a publication name, such as Witkin’s California Treatises or Rutter Group California Practice Guides.  There is even a link to “Select a Publication Name” where you can select a specific treatise, such as Rutter Group California Guides: Bankruptcy, and then filter for just that specific source.

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Using filters in secondary sources lets you run a broad search and not have to worry about wasting hours locating the source and going through results to find what you need. Let the filters do the work for you after running just one search! If you do not see what you need after applying your initial filters, you can always click “undo filters” to start over with your initial results list:

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Search the Title and Preliminary Fields

Another powerful strategy for searching Secondary Sources is to search for your legal term or issue in the title or preliminary field of the document. If it does not find exactly what you are looking for, it can still lead you to a nearby section within a treatise, allowing you to get closer to that perfect entry, even if you do not know exactly how that perfect entry is titled.

Let’s search for Premises Liability in Texas using the advanced search template to search the Title and Preliminary fields: ti,pr(“premises liability”)

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After you run the search, select “Secondary Sources” on the left. As you can see, our results include our terms either in the title or the preliminary field of the document. If our search terms are not in the title of the document, they will appear somewhere near the top and the document is therefore more likely to directly address our issue. For example, if we select one of the documents in the results list that does not have our term in the title, we can find our search term highlighted in yellow in the preliminary field:

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Thus, although the document is entitled “Generally” we are still able to pick up a helpful entry that broadly discusses premises liability.  Searching both the title and preliminary field in Secondary Sources is a good way to increase the relevancy of our results. Although footnotes may contain helpful information, we may wish to start with a title and preliminary field search to help ensure our terms are discussed in depth.

There is another boon from searching this way – we may be able to quickly get to the table of contents and find a nearby section within the secondary source that is right on target. Let’s say we are more interested in the elements of a premises liability cause of action. If we click the “Table of Contents” button on the upper-right side of the screen, we can quickly view and access nearby sections:

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Using this strategy in conjunction with the filtering methods described above will help you quickly get the results you need. 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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