Adding terms and connectors searching to your legal research toolkit

Have you ever searched on Westlaw, Lexis, or Bloomberg and found that your “Google”-like keyword searching is bringing up an overwhelming list of 10,000+ resources, and worse, none of those resources seem useful? When this happens to you, we recommend terms and connectors searching. Terms and connectors searching, also called Boolean searching and advanced searching, will enable you to take charge of your search. It is a way to ensure your search results are comprehensive and precise. We’ve mapped out steps below to help you become comfortable with making terms and connectors searching your default search strategy.

1. Assess the problem
Before you search, consider:
What’s the area of law? Am I familiar with it, or do I need to get some background?
What words (jargon, terms of art) are used in this area of law?
What type of materials do I want to search?

2. Write an issue statement

3. Turn the issue statement into a search query
A mnemonic for doing this is TARC:
Terms
Alternatives
Root expander
Connectors

T = Terms — Identify key terms
Which terms in the issue statement represent the most legally relevant facts and/or issues?  

A = Alternatives — Identify alternatives to the key terms
Brainstorm words that legal writers might use in place of the key terms you identified. Helpful options include listing synonyms and related terms, which may be broader or narrower in scope than the main key term (ex. if the main key term is car, alternative terms could include automobile and vehicle). You can connect these within parenthesis in your search using the OR connector, discussed below.

R = Root expander
Using the ! character (root expander) can help account for different word endings/variations.
– Ex. constit! = constitute, constitution, constitutional…  
– Plurals: the singular will retrieve the regular plural.

C = Connectors
Use connectors to dictate the relationship between the search terms you enter. The two main connectors are OR and AND.
OR expands search results
When used between two words, OR means that the results may contain either or both words.
AND limits / restricts search results
When used between two words, AND means that the results must contain both words.
Variations of AND:
w/s — within the same sentence
w/p — within the same paragraph
w/# — within # words (e.g., w/4 equals within 4 words)
The connectors w/s and w/p are particularly useful in issue-based searching. If words are in same sentence or paragraph, there is a greater chance they’ll relate to one another and to your issue, and therefore that the document will be relevant.

Phrase Searching
Always put phrases in quotation marks.

4. Write out your search query with all the terms, alternatives, root expanders, and connectors in place
Here is an example of how an issue statement related to drunk driving can be crafted into a terms and connector search:

Issue statement: Is an individual who was found asleep in his car, which was parked on the side of the road with the engine off but the keys in the ignition, guilty of driving under the influence?

Terms and connector search: (asleep OR unconscious OR “passed out”) AND (“drunk driving” OR DUI OR intoxicated OR inebriated) AND ((car OR vehicle OR automobile)/s (park! OR stationary))

When running a terms and connectors search, what you are doing is specifying the relationships that must exist between the terms in your retrieved documents, instead of letting the database search algorithm determine those relationships for you. In Westlaw, a space between terms is by default interpreted as an “OR” connector (first amendment = first OR amendment); in Bloomberg Law, a space between terms in interpreted as an AND connector (first amendment = first AND amendment); in Lexis, it depends on the other connectors in the search as to how the space in interpreted by default. Don’t let the databases push you around! Using terms and connectors searching puts you in control of your search.

For individualized help with terms and connectors searching, make an appointment with a law librarian!

Blazing Your Research Trail

We’ve all been there. An ember of a memory of the perfect case or statute we read a few days ago faintly glows. It’s the tantalizing last vestige of a source whose value we failed to initially recognize.

Cases and other resources we too hastily reject may not be lost forever. We can find traces of them through an analysis of our research history on our commercial research databases, or by wading through our recent internet browsing history. We might even have names at the tip of our tongue: Hammer v. SafewayAnnoyer v. Peff? But mining the lost, mislaid, or abandoned gems can become very taxing, and it takes up precious research time.

The Ross-Blakley reference librarians have suggestions for keeping track of your research (often referred to as a research trail) to make sure you don’t wander lost again!

  1. Keep a research log. This can be handwritten or electronic – choose a method/tool that works best for you. We have seen Excel work for this, as well as simple Word docs, or even printouts of cases stored in a tabbed binder. Even if you cross off a case or other source because it doesn’t seem to have much connection to your legal issue at first blush, the law can take you strange places, and you may want to revisit those sources later. Pro tip: Track the case name, key facts, holding, and key reasoning to create an explanatory parentheticals efficiently later.

  2. Follow a trusted secondary source. It’s dangerous to go alone! Long, convoluted case opinions are trying to resolve a legal dispute, where legal treatises, encyclopedias, and hornbooks succinctly and efficiently explain how legal rules operate in practice. Researching beginning with cases can lead you down unfortunate rabbit holes so we recommend starting with a secondary source 100% of the time. Westlaw and Lexis have excellent secondary sources; the ASU Library catalog is another resource for accessing secondary sources such as legal treatises, journals, and more.

  3. Utilize highlights, notes, folders, and sharing. Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg all have folder systems in which you can save materials to access easily later. To highlight and take notes in Westlaw, just select a passage of text and when you let go, you’ll have an option to highlight or make a note. You can then save your highlighted, annotated case into a folder, where your notes will be preserved. Lexis has similar features, with the history button on its homepage and in the top bar on every page, and with the “Folders” button hidden under the “More” option in the top right corner. Both databases enable you to copy passages into Word or Excel documents by highlighting them and clicking on Copy with Reference (Westlaw) or Copy (Advanced) (Lexis).

  4. Meet with a Law Librarian to get tips on how to research efficiently and confidently. We can help guide you to secondary sources, help you navigate folders, highlights, and notes, and discuss best practices for research to help you on your journey toward a completed memo or GWR paper.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Highlights from Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s Personal Library

Last year the family of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor generously gifted the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the Ross-Blakley Law Library with a significant collection of books from Justice O’Connor’s personal library and mementos from her long legal career. Many items from this gift will be added to the print collection of the Law Library and displayed in the College of Law’s fifth floor reading room in the year(s) to come; during that time we will be spotlighting some particularly interesting titles and items here on the blog.

Today we are showcasing two Arizona-specific titles, both gifted to Justice O’Connor in the 2000s. Arizona Sketchbook, published in 1952, was written by prominent Arizona businessman and political activist, Frank Cullen Brophy. The Arizona Historical Society provides some brief biographical information on Brophy and his family here.

Justice O’Connor’s copy of the Arizona Sketchbook, which features fifty historical sketches of Arizona landscapes and landmarks, includes a lovely inscription from Margaret McChesney, a granddaughter of the author. McChesney wrote:

To Justice Sandra Day O’Connor,
A true Arizona pioneer.
With greatest respect and
sincere appreciation for
your contribution to our
State and our country.

Arizona Nights, a 1907 book described by the publisher as “A series of spirited tales emphasizing some phase of the life of the ranch, plains and desert, and all, taken together, forming a single sharply-cut picture of life in the far Southwest,” predates Arizona statehood!

Justice O’Connor’s copy of the book includes a handwritten note on stationary with heartfelt details making it clear the gift was from a family friend who knew Justice O’Connor and her husband, John O’Connor, well. The author of the note states that “the illustrations…are terrific period pieces. I thought it might amuse you or your grandchildren to read about the impressions of Arizona in a bygone time.”

Stay tuned for future glimpses into Justice O’Connor’s personal library – we look forward to showing you more of the many wonderful titles she owned!

First Monday in October

The Supreme Court’s 2021-2022 term begins today, the “first Monday in October” as laid out in 28 U.S.C. § 2. There are some changes coming to the way arguments will be held this year – while the Supreme Court building remains closed to the public in response to the coronavirus pandemic, oral arguments will resume inside the courtroom. The Court will continue a practice that started during the pandemic, however, in which the justices have an opportunity to ask questions of an attorney in order of seniority; the traditional question free-for-all will still be in place as well. You can read about these changes in the Court’s Guide for Counsel in Cases to be Argued before the Supreme Court of the United States.

If you are interested in previewing what is likely going to be a controversial term, take a look at the American Bar Association’s Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases for the October 2021 term on HeinOnline (ASURITE required).

Oyez is another resource for information on cases that will be heard in the 2021-2022 term. Each case entry includes a summary of the facts and the questions(s) presented before the Court. SCOTUSblog likewise provides excellent coverage of upcoming Supreme Court cases, and links to PDF copies of case filings when available.

For more information on the Supreme Court, including resources for accessing Court dockets, briefs, cert petitions, oral arguments, and more, check out the Law Library’s Supreme Court research guide.

Speedy and Thorough: Research Tips for Time-Squeezed 1Ls

The best legal research is that which you can do fast and do well (the first time!). Like you, our JD reference librarians first sharpened their legal research skills in their 1L legal research and writing class, and have learned a lot since then through years of practical research on the job. Here are their top tips for conducting efficient and comprehensive legal research:

Seek secondary sources: Secondary sources on your legal issue can quickly set you on the right path for your research. Not only can they provide a quick explanation of the law and an overview of the factors courts consider in deciding on those legal issues, but they list primary law that you will want to analyze. It’s tempting to want to “save time” by diving into the statutes and case law directly, but a little advance reading can make research a lot faster, easier, and more complete.

For statutes, start by looking at the statute, and find Notes of Decisions as well as secondary sources from there: Underneath the statutory text, Lexis will break apart the statute into the key legal issues it addresses. If you find one of the issues that your memo is intended to address, you get a quick, one-line summary of a judicial interpretation of the statute, along with a link to a case that could be super-relevant. In Westlaw, you can find similar information in the Notes of Decisions tab at the top of the page. The Notes of Decisions are summaries of important cases that discuss the statute or regulation in question and are organized by topic. You can also navigate in Westlaw to helpful secondary sources that will collect relevant case law, such as the ALR Library, underneath the Context & Analysis tab.

For relevant case law, use headnotes and KeyCite rather than trying to “Google” everything: Attorney editors at Lexis and Westlaw have analyzed cases and the legal issues they contain and have grouped together related authority to help legal researchers perform faster, more thorough research than keyword searching alone. In Westlaw, KeyCites will arrange the legal areas and issues that a headnote addresses, from general to specific. Click on the KeyCite codes for more relevant authority. In Lexis, when you find your legal issue, you can click “Shepardize – Narrow by this Headnote” to find more relevant authority.

Look for ambiguities: A lot of the most interesting discussions in law come in the gray areas—where the law and the facts are not entirely settled or clear. This “it depends” territory can create interesting analytical puzzles for you to solve in your memo: you will want to show that you can see both sides to an argument, and you will want to demonstrate the critical reasoning skills to form a solid conclusion.

CREAC tips: When you’re explaining a precedent case, it may not be enough to list the facts the court considered and tell the reader how the court ruled. You want to analyze why the court ruled the way it did on a variety of factors. Contrasting and comparing the facts in your writing prompt will then much more clearly indicate to the reader whether or not a particular ruling will further the legal principle at issue.

We are here to help. Meet with a Librarian today!

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Chained Books

Sir Anthony Fitzherbert, an English judge, published a compilation of English cases in 1516, seeking to reconcile medieval common law with a rapidly changing society. The Ross-Blakley Law Library owns a 1577 copy of this book, titled La Graunde Abridgement; a digitized version of the book is also available on HeinOnline.

One of the many interesting features of the Law Library’s copy of La Graunde Abridgement are the holes in the front and back cover.  These holes allowed the book to be secured within an English medieval “chained library”; through the holes, a metal clip was riveted to an iron chain and ring, which in turn was attached to an iron rod secured to a bookshelf or reading desk by a hasp and padlock. 79 Scientific American 122 (1898). The books were chained
upright with inward-facing spines so that they could be pulled from the shelves and consulted at a nearby table, without having the chain removed. Dymphna Byrne, 37 History Today 5 (1987).

Books were chained at this point in time due to their rarity and value; it was not until the mid-eighteenth century, as book-printing became less expensive and more common, that religious and academic libraries in England stopped chaining their books. Id. at 6. One of the oldest chained libraries in England, and one of the few still in existence, is the Hereford Cathedral chained library, pictured below.

https://www.herefordcathedral.org/chained-library

A video about the Hereford Cathedral chained library, narrated by Cathedral Librarian Dr. Rosemary Firman, can be viewed on the YouTube page of History West Midlands. In addition, a short New York Times article from 1931 provides fascinating information about the 1920s restoration of the Hereford Cathedral chained library – the article is accessible via ASURITE here.

Finally, we cannot leave this look at our 1577 law book without remarking upon the marginalia within it – it seems that the practice of making notes in the margins of law books dates back at least to the sixteenth century!

Making the Most of Midterms

Midterm season is just around the corner. Midterms are your crystal ball showing your future exam-taking self and a window to the essence of your learning style. They can be incredibly helpful to inform and adjust your study habits to achieve your academic apotheosis in December. Some students take them without much extra study just to see how well they can do on regular, daily reading. But if you want to do some additional preparation for midterms, we have some tips to help you excel.

  1. Study aids for exam practice. The book Getting to Maybe has helped many budding lawyers learn to thrive in a field laden with slippery “it depends” answers instead of familiar, concrete facts. Crunch Time on Wolters Kluwer provides flow charts, multiple choice, short answer, and essay exam questions. West Academic provides Exam Pro practice questions for multiple-choice and essay exam practice, and Mastering the Exam for tips that will help you throughout law school. CALI offers podcasts featuring panels of experts on outlining, time management, exam prep, and the grading process.

  2. Take past exams to prepare. Thinking like a lawyer involves more than just repeating memorized knowledge. Unexpected scenarios will test your ability to apply and analyze the law. The Law Library’s Past Exams collection can help; even if it’s not from your professor, authentic issue-spotting exams from Sandra day O’Connor College of Law faculty offer invaluable practice in 1L and upper-level classes. 

  3. Refine your outline. Making an outline is probably the best way to study legal doctrine and make the connections between the rule of law and the court’s reasoning. ASU’s past outlines are most useful to check your own work as you process your notes and readings. Your class teaching assistant is a great resource for resolving discrepancies.

  4. Meet with a Law Librarian. Meeting with a librarian about your open memo can buy yourself valuable study time for other classes. We can help you navigate Westlaw and Lexis to find all relevant law efficiently and thoroughly.

  5. Breathe. Remember that no one exam will make or break your professional dreams, not even the ones you’ll take in December. Good luck!

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Feeling the Rush? How the Law Library Can Help Save You Time

When you’re fighting against the clock and calendar, the Ross-Blakley Law Library can back you up. The JD reference librarians have been through the whole law school experience and know the best methods for conducting research efficiently and effectively, and they want to share those skills with you! Make an appointment to Meet with a Librarian and get help with any of the following tasks:

  • Midterm prep. We can tailor advice on study aids for your particular classes, whether you are a 1L looking for help with Criminal Law and Property or a 3L trying to master the Federal Rules of Evidence. And we have a bevy of materials to cater to every learning style. The Exam Pro series on West Academic puts learners to the test with challenging multiple choice or essay  questions and explanations of right and wrong answers. The Crunchtime series on Wolters Kluwer provides practice questions as well as flowcharts to help you visualize, for example, the intricacies of whether statements fall in the scope of hearsay and whether exceptions will enable them to be admitted in court. Our study aids subscriptions also include both audio and video resources for auditory and visual learners.

  • Research projects. If you are a 1L, we can offer feedback on your research process if you’re feeling stuck. If you’re in a seminar or writing an independent study paper or journal note, we can help you narrow down a topic and navigate the rich array of ASU Library research resources.

  • Job search. We can help you use cutting edge analytics tools and other efficient research strategies to help you crush your interviews for an externship or law firm placement.

  • Citation mastery. We know the Bluebook and can help you polish your citations to improve your grades or your publication chances.

Reference librarian meetings typically last about 30 minutes and can save you hours of research time, as well as help you approach your projects with more confidence and preparation.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Mindfulness and Mental Wellness in Law School

In the midst of a busy semester it may seem like you have no time for anything other than schoolwork, but it can be good for both body and soul to take a moment to clear your mind. The Ross-Blakley Law Library’s guide on Mindfulness and Mental Wellness in Law School is focused on resources that can help Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law students find mindfulness resources to relieve stress, focus their attention, and stay in control in difficult situations. It offers information about fully secular meditation practices, with resources to explain how and why it works, and how to incorporate mindfulness practices into your routine.

Regular meditation practice can reshape your mind in many ways, improving concentration, awareness, and compassion while reducing stress and anxiety. Even if you’re not regularly practicing, taking a break to breathe can help you manage in times of increased pressure. Here are instructions to get you started, adapted from The Anxious Lawyer co-author Jeena Cho on Above the Law:

  1. Sit on the floor or a cushion with your legs crossed in front of you, upright with your spine straight. Your arms should be relaxed with your hands resting on your knees. (Palms may face downward or upward depending on your preference.) Alternatively, you may sit in a chair with your legs uncrossed and your feet firmly on the floor. You can also meditate lying down if that is most comfortable.

  2. Close your eyes or allow their focus to soften, and take a deep breath or two. Feel your body make contact with your surroundings, and feel the tension in your shoulders relax as you exhale deeply.

  3. Pay attention to your breath. Notice the sensation of the air.

  4. Your mind will likely wander. Don’t fret or mentally reprimand yourself; visualize the thought dissipating and return your focus to your breath. Our brains are made to produce thoughts, and law students will have a lot on their minds, particularly around finals.

  5. Alternative methods of focusing the brain include mentally expressing gratitude, repeating a word or phrase, or focusing attention on sensations throughout the body.

  6. You can set a goal to meditation for 5 to 10 minutes or more, but even short, calming breaks can provide rest and peace.

For stress-relieving help with research related to your studies, memos, papers, or employment, make an appointment to Meet with a Librarian.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Warming Up to Cold Calls: The Socratic Method

As a law student you experience the Socratic Method instructional model, which is based on the asking and answering of questions in class with the goal of stimulating critical thinking. 

The Law School Academic Support Blog has advice on turning the Socratic Method into a positive experience:

  • Predict: Think about the answers to questions you hear frequently in class while you are doing your class preparation.
  • Contextualize: Consider the case not only on its own, but in the context of other cases you’ve read and the development of legal doctrines.
  • Pause: A deep breath can be the difference between a well thought out answer and a blurted out mistake.
  • Relax: Your classmates are not judging you because they are busy taking notes, feeling relieved they are not on the spot, or preparing to answer next.

Here are more tips from the reference librarians at the Ross-Blakley Law Library.

  • Find your study aid: The law library offers a variety of guides so you can find a study strategy for your particular learning style and understand the cases before you go to class. Study aids may include more information than your professor’s syllabus covers, so don’t sweat the irrelevant stuff. Learn more about study aids hereNew Student Resource Guide: Study Materials and here How Do I Know Which Study Guides are Right for Me?
  • Case briefing: Whether you are highlighting, book briefing by marking the areas of text containing issue statements or the controlling rule, or composing marginalia as you study and write your case brief, focus on identifying the most important facts, rules, and the reasons for the court’s decision. Are you highlighting all the facts, or zeroing in on the key details? It’s a skill you can learn, and CALI provides a lesson on effective case briefing.
  • Active listening: Try to imagine how you would answer if you were on the hot seat when a classmate is talking. If you pay attention to what the professor tests your classmates on, you can give yourself an edge for finals week. Learn more about active listening here, Active Listening and here, Listening Skills in the Law School Classroom.
  • Meet with a Librarian: With JDs and experience instructing students, the reference librarians can help you find study aids and research strategies that will help you succeed in doctrinal and writing courses, even though they cannot help you interpret your cases. Make an appointment to Meet with a Librarian or contact us with questions: Ask a Law Librarian.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian