Westlaw tip: Finding definitions within case law

May 25, 2011

From the Westlaw Reference AttorneysThere are two commonly known techniques for finding definitions in case law:

  1. Looking for the word or phrase in the WP field; and,
  2. Placing the word or phrase in proximity to five root-expanded words that typically indicate a definition, namely, defin! mean! interpret! construe! constitute!

A third way to find definitions is to construct a query based on how judges usually discuss the importance or meaning of a term.

When discussing a particular term, judges usually write:  “the term ‘typically'” or “the word ‘typically'” or “the phrase ‘time of the essence'”.

Thus, a useful query structure for finding definitions is:  term word phrase +1 [the word or phrase].

To demonstrate the query’s efficacy, look for definitions of the word “typically.”

“Typically” is a very difficult word for which to find a definition given its common usage.

So, running — WP(typically) — in FIP-CS yields no results.

Running — typically +5 defin! mean! interpret! construe! constitute!— yields 106 results of which only one decision, number 66 in the results, is somewhat relevant.

However, running — word term phrase +1 typically –produces 42 results of which 12 are directly on point, including the first decision.

None of these are found in the prior query, and what may surprise you, there is an overlap of only two decisions between the two queries!

(Provided by West Reference Attorneys)