Basics of Fielded Search

July 20, 2010

A few days ago, I had a discussion regarding searching the dissenting opinion field on a Westlaw case (a query in the dissent searches the entire dissenting opinion NOT just the judge’s name).  We talked further about fielded searching generally.  I realized that what’s second-nature to Reference Attorneys might bear highlighting here.

In simplest terms, almost all Westlaw documents are broken down into their component parts (fields); title, preliminary, opinion, text, author, date, and so on.  This is as true for cases and statutes as it is for private letter rulings, patents, and security filings.   As a result, we can search for documents by date, author, etc.   Of course, documents from such disparate sources will have unique fields.  To find available field identifiers and their meaning, access the database’s  ‘scope screen.’  That’s the icon with the black ‘i’ in the silver circle.  From here, click the Searching and Fields link to review the table of available fields.

In addition to fields inherent to documents, Westlaw editors add their own serachable fields (e.g. headnotes).   The video below is a bit dated but does a great job outlining a day in the life of a Westlaw case from reciept through the enahcement process.

Finally, there are also helpful user guides on the site (Linked on the right side of this blog as well).  For example, check out the Stautes Field Quick Reference Guide.

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