How to Use Westlaw. Westlaw is a searchable legal database that includes thousands of cases, regulations, court briefs, administrative opinions and law articles. It is an invaluable resource for law students and lawyers who need to research issues of law or who need to find legal support for an argument they are making in a brief. Here are some tips to help you use Westlaw.
Find a document. If you have the citation for the case you are looking for or know the name of the parties, you can save a lot of time and money by clicking on "Find" and inserting the citation or names. Westlaw will then take you directly to the document.
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Pick a database. Click on "Directory" to open the list of all the available databases. Here, you will see legal materials organized by state, court jurisdiction and subject matter. Pick the database that you think is most likely to have the document or information you are looking for.
Construct a search. To use Westlaw, you have to know how to search for documents. Once in the database you chose in the previous step, construct a search aimed at retrieving the information you want. Westlaw allows you to search by "terms and connectors" and by natural language.
Use Keycite. When you are in a document, you will see a colored symbol next to that document's name. Click on this symbol to Keycite the document. This brings up a list of all other sources that have either followed, overturned, distinguished or just cited to that document. This is a good resource to make sure that the case or regulation you found is still considered good law.
Remember that Westlaw can be expensive. Use your time judiciously and never search at random. Have an idea of the database you need and your search terms before you even log on.