Tips for Finding a Definition on WestlawNext

April 18, 2013

Law School BlogFinding definitions in statutes can be tricky, but a well-crafted Westlaw search can make it much easier.

1)      The first section from a statute many times is a definition section.  For example, say you are reading 17 USCA § 302 – Duration of copyright – and you see subpart (c) is talking about anonymous works, pseudonymous works, and works made for hire.  Those are three rather technical terms that unless you know copyright law, you may not know.  In situations like this, go to the table of contents for either the subpart or the overall chapter and see if the first section is on definitions.  In this case, 17 USCA §101 is entirely definitions, and all three of those terms are defined in that section.

2)      You can also run a search across statutes that may assist you finding definitions.  Go the statute in question (for example the USCA) and use the following search: TI(definition) & te(insert term) (for example, TI(definition) & te(work-made-for-hire)).  This will run a search for sections that are titled Definition(s) and then look for the term in the text of the statute.

3)      There will be many times that the statute chapter may not have a definition section, so in those cases you may have to search case law or secondary sources to find what you want.  Below are three searches you can use to search for definitions:

  1. Defin! Mean! Interpret! Explain! Constru! Constitut! Typical! Entail! /5 [insert term] – this search is usually the most effective in finding definitions, and works well in case law as well as secondary sources
  2. Term Word Phrase +1 [insert term] – this search is a little more restrictive so you will get less, but it is a good second option
  3. WP([insert term]) – this searches the words and phrases field of a case or statute, which will contain definitions, this search won’t work for secondary sources