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Business Associations Research Guide: Case Law Research

Searching for Cases in Westlaw

Methods of identifying relevant cases:
  • Secondary sources
  • Statute annotations
  • Keyword search
    • Natural language
    • Terms and connectors
  • Topical arrangement of cases
    • Digests (topic & key number)
  • Citators

Anatomy of a Case in Westlaw

Each case published in Westlaw is formatted so that they contain all of the following features:
  • Name & identifying information
  • Editor’s synopsis
  • Headnotes
  • Names of attorneys
  • Judges who heard case
  • Author of opinion
  • Text of Court’s opinion

What is a Digest?

  • A topical arrangement of cases
    • Divides law into 400+ topics.
    • There is a topic and key number for every possible legal situation.
  • Finding aid that provides subject access to all reported cases.
  • Indexed collection of all headnotes with citations to the cases.
Digests - the Creation Process
  • For each case, all legal issues are identified
  • A summary/headnote is written for each legal issue
  • The headnote is assigned a pre-existing topic and key number.
  • All of the summaries/headnotes from all cases are published in digests.
Use One Good Case
  • One case (even if it is very old or from another jurisdiction) can be used to find relevant, mandatory case law.
  • Read the case headnotes, pick ones that are on your issue.
  • Use that headnote’s Topic/Key Number to find other cases in any jurisdiction.
  • View the surrounding Key Numbers to find similar topics.

Use the tabs on Westlaw (the "Citator" features) to find more information

  • Westlaw's Notes of Decisions are short summaries of cases interpreting a particular aspect of the statute or rule and can quickly help you find what you need because they are organized by common procedural topics. They allow you to see how cases have construed an element or aspect of a statute or rule. 
  • Westlaw's Citing References is comprised of everything that has ever cited your document, including not only cases and statutes, but also legal secondary sources, court document, regulations, etc.

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