Category Archives: Fast and Furious Legal Research!

Graphics of Legal Research – Part 1: Citators

When conducting legal research in Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law, you will encounter a number of graphics and symbols that are simultaneously helpful and confusing. In this three-part Graphics of Legal Research series, we are going to demystify some of the most common graphics that you may encounter when conducting legal research:

Part 1 – citator symbols
Part 2 – depth analysis
Part 3 – Ravel Law

On to citator symbols!

A citator is a tool that provides you with a list of documents and resources that cite to a specific document or resource, and alert you to whether any of those citing references are negative. Westlaw’s citator is KeyCite, Lexis’ is Shepard’s, and Bloomberg’s is BCite. A citator is helpful to a researcher who is trying to determine whether a particular piece of primary authority is still “good law” – it is vital that a lawyer does not rely on primary authority that is no longer “good law.”

  • Cases – “good law” means that a case has not been reversed or overruled by a subsequent court opinion or legislative action
  • Statutes – “good law” means that a statute has not been repealed by legislative action or invalidated by a court opinion
  • Regulations – “good law” means that a regulation has not been repealed by an executive agency or invalidated by either a court opinion or legislative action

Watch the short video below for a famous example of a lawyer who did rely on primary authority that was no longer “good law.”

KeyCite
KeyCite uses status flags to alert researchers to negative treatment. Not every piece of primary law will have a status flag – if it does not, the law is still “good,” but if it does, it means the law has at least some negative treatment. For cases, this negative treatment could be overruling, superseding, or another negative action. The two most significant symbols to watch for in Westlaw are the red flag and yellow flag.

A red flag warns that the case is no longer good law for at least one of the points of law it contains.
A yellow flag warns that the case has some negative history but has not been reversed or overruled.

Shepard’s
Shepard’s also uses color-coded symbols to alert researchers to negative treatment. A lack of a citator graphic indicates the law is still “good.” The two most significant symbols in Lexis to watch for are the red stop sign and the yellow trinagle.

A red symbol indicates that citing references contain strong negative history or treatment of the case.
A yellow symbol indicates that citing references contain history or treatment that may have a significant negative impact on the case.

BCite
BCite has a red/yellow color system as well for its two major citator symbols.

A red box with a white line in the center indicates the most negative results from the Direct History of Case Analysis, indicating the case was reversed, vacated, or depublsihed in full or in part.

A yellow box with a white triangle in the center indicates some negative/cautionary results from the Direct History or Case Analysis, indicating the case was modified, clarified or amended.

**IMPORTANT LAST NOTE ABOUT CITATOR SYMBOLS** – just because a piece of primary authority has a citator symbol next to it in one of the legal databases does not automatically mean it cannot be used for your purpose(s). The legal databases add a citator symbol for ANY negative treatment; that treatment could be from a different jurisdiction as the primary authority or for an issue unrelated to the one that you are relying on the law for – in both of those instances, the primary authority may still be “good law” for the legal issue on which you want to use it.

It’s Never too Late to Research Efficiently

Legal researchers should never allow a late semester time crunch lead to disordered research. Taking shortcuts in legal research can slow you down and add confusion, pressure, and tedium to the process. In addition, going without a plan can lead you to struggle through an enormous list of irrelevant results, misunderstand the law, or even select the wrong database altogether, missing important resources.

Meetings with the reference librarians at the Ross-Blakley Law Library are short, sweet, and efficient. We have the expertise to quickly identify the best legal research databases for your project and suggest research strategies that can help you craft quality writing projects, even in a time crunch at the end of the semester.

A few specific examples of what the reference librarians can help you with:

(1) showing you how to access and navigate the many available legal secondary sources so that you feel more confident in your search results

(2) identifying databases, both legal and interdisciplinary, outside of Westlaw and Lexis that may have relevant content for your inquiry

(3) providing tips and strategies for reducing the volume of irrelevant or unhelpful search results

In addition, we may already have a research guide that can help you identify helpful resources for your particular topic. We have guides on Bankruptcy Law, Tax Law, International Law, and much more!

Meet with a Law Librarian to get expert advice on all of your research projects, from office memoranda to seminar papers to Journal notes.

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!

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

Bloomberg Law: In-Focus Content

What is it?
In-Focus pages are intended to be a one-stop-shop for issues that are currently in the headlines.  They have everything from introductory materials, to links to statutes, to news alerts.  They are a curated in-depth analysis so that an attorney could feel competent dealing with a complicated or technical issue.

Think of them like a Wikipedia page on steroids…. but for legal professionals.

Who makes them?
Bloomberg hires prominent attorneys in the subject fields to collect these materials – people who have extensive knowledge of the subject matter and can anticipate what an attorney would want to know.

For example, Laura Jehl, who has years of experience in securities, privacy, and cybersecurity has drafted the In-Focus: Blockchain (she even advises the DOJ and FBI on these issues).

But what is in them?
Let’s take a closer look at the In-Focus: Blockchain page that I’ve linked above.  Here’s a video to lead you through the process of navigating there.

I won’t cover everything but I’ll give you some highlights.  Top Right (1) you can see that they have a few different Primers (of different depths and scopes).  Dead center (2) they have Bloomberg Law Trackers – these are machine algorithms that go out into the web and scrape data related to the topic.  Just below that (3) they have Bloomberg Analysis, which is generally a deeper look at contemporary topics by legal professionals (like a news article but written by an attorney instead of a journalist).  Further down and on the right sidebar (4) they have links to Dockets and Court Opinions about blockchain – you can see the most recent litigation or search within this subject-specific database.  Wayyyyy down at the bottom (5), they have a map that shows how each state is dealing with regulation (you can click-through to see the actual legislation).

What other topics are covered?
They add new topics as trends emerge.  Here’s a random sampling:

Sean Harrington, Reference/Electronic Resources Librarian

A New Tool for Online Legal Research – Ravel Law

Ravel Law is a new and innovative (as well as free) online legal search, analytics, and visualization platform that provides access to U.S. Supreme Court and federal Circuit Court case law.  What makes ravel so original is that it displays case search results in both list format (like WestlawNext, LexisAdvance, and Bloomberg Law) as well as in visual graphic format.  The visual display of search results has two elements: (1) a timeline of search results that shows which years had the most cases that fall under a search, and (2) a timeline that represents cases using circles of various sizes – the size of the circle indicates the importance of the case (based on number of citations).  This graphical display shows trends in cases over time and also makes it easy to see how cases relate to each other.  Ravel claims that in comparisons with traditional legal research tools, its unique “visual tools and robust analytics” cut research time by up to 70%.

Below you can see the graphical result for the case Katz v. United States (389 U.S. 347).

Ravel

 

Ravel Law for Law Students
Anyone can run a search on Ravel Law, but it’s best to create an account as this will allow you to annotate and save cases to return to later. Ravel also offers a Premium account for free to law students.  The Premium account offers access to federal district court cases (1933-present) and state cases (1950-present) in addition to U.S. Supreme Court and Circuit Court opinions.

Citation Management – RefWorks

If you’ve ever researched a topic online, you know how easy it is to get overwhelmed with all the information out there. There’s even a term for this condition: information overload.

If you’re plagued by information overload, a citation management program may be just the cure you need. A citation management program (a.k.a. reference managment program; a.k.a. bibliographic managment program) is a tool that allows you to create a personal database of citations, so all those fabulous resources you come across while researching will be in one place, organized however you like, and easily searchable.

There are lots of these programs available, but the three biggies are EndNote, RefWorks and Zotero. Havard Libraries has put together a handy comparison of the three programs’ features, but here’s the quick run-down:

  • Endnote: a software package you purchase and download onto your computer;
  • Zotero: a free web-based, open-source extension that works through your Firefox browser;
  • RefWorks: a  web-based program that allows you to create and share databases. RefWorks is supported by ASU Libraries, and as an ASU student, faculty or staff, you can create an account.

RefWorks will allow you to import and export directly from research databases.  That means if you come across a book, article, case or other resource, you can usually bookmark it in RefWorks with a simple click or two. [For a full list of ASU databases that work with RefWorks, click here].

You can also import citations from Google Scholar, as well as manually enter citations so that all your research is bookmarked in one place.

Best of all, when you’re writing a paper or putting together a bibliography, RefWorks will export your citations in the citation style of your choice…including Bluebook! [Word to the wise, though, always double-check citations for accuracy.] You can dowload formatted citations from RefWorks, or install a plug-in called Write-n-Cite that works with Microsoft Word to insert citations directly into your document.

A little time learning RefWorks over Spring Break might help you tackle the rest of the semester. To learn the RefWorks basics, check out the ASU Libraries RefWorks info page , then set up your account through the ASU authentication page, www.asu.edu/refworks.

You can also watch a series of short video tutorials for RefWorks Classic  and RefWorks 2.0 online, or sign up for a webinar to dig a little deeper into this tool’s possibilities.