Category Archives: Legal Research & Writing

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

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

Advanced Legal Writing Guide: Take Research to the Next Level

By the end of the 1L year of law school, students attain a level of mastery of research on the most popular online primary law platforms that will serve them and their clients well. But the rest of law school brings seminars, journal assignments, and graduate writing requirements that open students to a vast world of legal and interdisciplinary academic writing, as well as employment opportunities that reward effective written and oral communication.

Navigating the vast holdings of ASU Library takes strong, professional guidance. And the Law Library’s new Advanced Legal Writing Research Guide identifies many of the best resources to help students and scholars contribute to the academic conversation involving an important area of law, and to further enhance their written and oral communication mastery.

The guide’s home page leads writers to expert advice on how to choose a topic and ensure that the topic is providing new information to the field, as well as advice on style and formatting of articles.

The Advanced Legal Writing: Indian Law page identifies important law journals that researchers can use to strengthen their understanding of ongoing legal controversies and identify areas in which further scholarship is needed. It also introduces ASU’s Labriola National American Indian Data Center, which collects the works of indigenous scholars and explains legal regimes governing indigenous people. It further identifies essential treatises and reference works.

Furthermore, it selects the essential databases from ASU Library’s collection of hundreds of research databases to help explain the history, law, and culture of the people. Finally, for students seeking more recognition and exposure for their completed works, the guide links to American Indian legal writing competitions.

The guide’s other major component, Advanced Legal Writing: Persuasion, contains a trove of useful information for writers in any legal discipline. It identifies databases from ASU Library that can help writers hone their style to help advance an argument, to tailor their messages to connect with particular audiences, and to find essential academic and scientific knowledge to advance new scholarship. Books and articles help writers of scholarly arguments as well as court documents to win over their audiences.

And persuasion is not limited to paper and computer screens. Oral argument resources help legal communicators build their conversational skills to maximize their presentations’ impact to judges (as well as legal writing professors). We point to archived arguments to help students and professionals learn from real world court proceedings.

For further guidance on research strategies for an academic paper, an internship assignment, or a first year legal writing assignment, feel free to Meet with a Librarian. The JD holding reference librarians can help you navigate the library’s resources to research effectively and efficiently.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

May It Please Your Prof: The Law Library Can Help You Develop Your Persuasive Skills

Legal research is not a one size fits all process. Different tasks require different strategies, different databases, different secondary sources. Few assignments will be as jarringly different as the first semester objective memo and second semester persuasive brief in Legal Advocacy class.

The Law Library is here to help. Our JD holding reference librarians have all been through the transition from dispassionate legal analysis to loyal, tenacious persuasion. If you make an appointment to Meet with a Librarian, we can help you avoid some of the pitfalls that can befall all research and find all you need to state your best case in court.

We can critique your research trail. Looking over your research and refining your strategies and search terms can make sure you can find your opponent’s best case to defuse it before it’s thrown at you.

We can also point to secondary sources that will be helpful for your particular assignment. Objective treatises and encyclopedias can help you grasp the law in the beginning. Practice guides can help you make sure you’re fully representing your client’s interests. And persuasive law review articles that can inspire you to construct your own arguments for why the law should be interpreted in favor of your client.

The librarians can also suggest texts and treatises that can build the writing skills necessary to craft a compelling brief. See our First Year Legal Writing and Advanced Legal Writing: Persuasion research guides to get a jump start on honing your craft. The guides discuss everything from effective organization of your document, to choosing the best words to change a judge’s mind.

And our assistance doesn’t end with the four corners of your document, because we can help make sure your oral argument pleases your professor. We have a number of guides from the experts on how to craft compelling presentations for your judges, and how to field their questions to advance your client’s interests. We also have tips for calming and channeling the nervous energy that comes from facing a panel of decision makers in your best suit. To improve your skills, few things are more effective than watching the experts, so you should also check out our our compilation of links to oral argument recordings from the Ninth Circuit, Arizona Court of Appeals, and U.S. Supreme Court.

Finally, even with the experience of Bluebooking your first objective memos behind you, citation can be tricky. We are more than happy to field questions about your citation sentences; just Ask a Law Librarian.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Creating Logical Arguments for Essays and Exams

logicHaving trouble in legal writing?  Is it because your arguments are illogical?  Nobody wants to admit that they have trouble putting together a logically coherent argument but logic, like many things, is a skill you can improve with practice.

Students that come from backgrounds in Philosophy, Poli Sci, and Math may get this type of training included in their undergraduate education.  Other undergrad disciplines (like my English Literature B.A.) may gloss over this information or assume that students understand these concepts intuitively.  Regardless, you can get this training on your own if you have a good guide.  Luckily for you, the Ross-Blakley Library has your back:

At LogicMatters.net they have a resource called “Teach Yourself Logic 2017: A Study Guide.”  This is a free PDF that will lead the reader from novice to expert.  It also gives thorough explanations of the resources so that you can jump in mid-stream if you already have previous training.  Guides like this are the next best thing to taking formal classes.

Many of the resources in the guide are available through the ASU catalog; either in print or digitally (and some are even free – like the Modern Formal Logic Primer).  Also remember that we can get materials from other institutions through the Interlibrary loan (ILL) so don’t be discouraged if you can’t find it at the ASU libraries.  Just fill out the form and we do the rest.

If your issues are more stylistic/format-centered, then we have a host of useful resources in-house to help you with these problems:

The 1L Resource Guide has general recommendations for structuring law school answers and how to approach questions.  The Legal Writing Guide will give you more directed advice on finding a book that is specific to the type of writing you want to do.  For example, Eugene Volokh has a fantastic book if you are specifically writing an article for Law Review.  West Academic has many study guides on the subject of legal writing (that hyperlink will take you directly to the Legal Writing materials).  On Wolters Kluwer we have the Examples and Explanations for Legal Writing (which was written by ASU’s phenomenally talented Judy Stinson).

West Academic even has audio lessons in the form of Sum and Substance Audio on Exam Skills: Essay Writing.  You can download the mobile app and stream this in your car, on the light rail, or at the gym.

Don’t hesitate to make an appointment to come see us.  We’ll help you in any way we can.  If you can’t make it to campus, you can always email us.  Also don’t forget to decompress with our Mindfulness and Meditation guide.

Sean Harrington, Electronic Resources Librarian

Cite Check: Just Do It

Why do law librarians and legal writing professors make such a big deal about the cite-checking process? In this blog post I will give some examples of legal research and cite-checking (or Shepardizing) gone horribly wrong.  Imagine that you’re standing before your legal writing professor and arguing your appellate brief, or that you’re being shadowed by your supervising attorney during your first court appearance, or that you’re presenting your brief to a senior partner that you greatly admire.  Now imagine that you didn’t take the time to properly check your work and missed a crucial piece of information.  As a law librarian, these terrifying scenarios cause me to break out in a flop-sweat.

Example 1: The classic, often-cited example of a failing to Shepardize comes during the biggest pop-culture trial of the last 50 years – the OJ Simpson trial.

Marcia Clark was center-stage during a trial where around 95 million people across the world tuned in daily to see if OJ Simpson would be convicted of murder.  To give some context, that’s nearly how many people watched the Superbowl last year (this was before streaming services when most people had basic cable).  The stakes were high and the pressure was incredible for Ms. Clark.  During this clip we see Judge Ito probe Ms. Clark about a law that (he knows) has been applied in a criminal context, despite her claim that it has not.  Ms. Clark’s claims end up being wrong because it turns out that she’s relying on second-hand information from one of her junior associates – and that associate has not performed thorough research.  To be fair to Ms. Clark, this trial was enormously stressful for her for a number of reasons.  Regardless, this is a situation that could have been avoided if a proper research plan had been executed.

Example 2: Court clerk’s failure to Shepardize results in defendant’s conviction being reversed.

[The case was subsequently recalled and vacated… but I bet this clerk got an ear-full.]

Example 3:  Attorney is sanctioned and later sued for malpractice because they did not adequately research the law.

McCandless v. Great Atl. & Pac. Tea Co., Inc., 697 F.2d 198 (7th Cir. 1983)
(Westlaw password required.)

“Before filing suit, it would seem to be a reasonable expectation that the attorney do some basic research on the applicable law.”  – Judge Pell

Ouch.

Example 4:  Ostrich-syndrome related to subsequent rulings results in sanctions.

Precision Specialty Metals, Inc. v. US, 315 F.3d 1346 (Fed. Cir. 2003)

“Counsel’s ‘ostrich-like tactic of pretending that potentially dispositive authority against [his] contention does not exist[] [is] precisely the type of behavior that would justify imposing Rule 11 sanctions.’”

CaseText provides a useful analysis of various automated cite-checking resources (to double check your work).  Keep in mind that CaseText is a software company that is trying to sell their product.  If you want a more neutral take, please refer to our Legal Citation  research guide.  This guide is in progress and is likely to see substantive updates and the semester continues so make sure to check back in once we get close to the end of the semester (and your papers are due).

Sean Harrington, Electronic Resources Librarian

Blazing Your Research Trail: Tracking the Law as You Read It

We’ve all been there.

An ember of a memory of the perfect case we read a few days ago faintly glows. It’s the tantalizing last vestige of a good things whose value we failed to recognize as we allowed it to drift, unmoored to the abyss and become the buried treasure in the mental junkyard of jurisprudence.

Cases we too hastily reject may not be lost forever. We can find traces of them through labor-intensive analysis of our research history on our commercial research databases, or we might wade into the depths of our internet browsing history. We might have names at the tip of our tongue: Hammer v. SafewayAnnoyer v. Peff? But mining the lost, mislaid, or abandoned gems becomes especially taxing as all of our free time dries up and pressure to outline and submit drafts begins to mount.

There are ways to make sure you don’t wander lost along your research trail again!

  1. Keep a research log. This can be handwritten or recorded in. 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 them later. Pro tip: Track the case name, key facts, holding, and key reasoning to create 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.
  3. Highlights, notes, folders, and sharing. Legal research databases function similarly. You can access materials saved in your folders by clicking “folders” from the Westlaw homepage. 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. You can Meet with a Librarian to get tips on how to use secondary sources, folders, highlights, and notes to preserve important discoveries from your journey toward a completed memo or the graduate writing requirement.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Seven Reasons to Meet with a Librarian About Your Open Memo

  1. We can help you navigate research resources and identify relevant information quickly: We are here to show you ways to narrow down search results to cases and statutes pertaining to your legal issue without tedious, time-wasting trial and error using search bars. Taking advantage of tools such as annotations, headnotes, and secondary sources on Lexis and Westlaw can save you valuable time for your other classes.

  2. We have J.D.s, and we understand the process. The librarians have all been through law school, and understand the process of writing open memos. Our primary focus at the library is you, and we can help you succeed. Use our Meet with a Librarian form to set up an appointment in our private offices behind the circulation desk on the third floor.

  3. We are within the bounds of the Honor Code: We won’t read your writing, and your professors are happy to let us help.

  4. We can help you get used to Bluebook’s blue rules, white rules, and tables: Legal citation will become second nature as you practice during your 1L year, but we understand that it has a lot of unfamiliar intricacies. We can identify resources that will be helpful in your citation practice, such as the Interactive Citation Workstation exercises, Examples & Explanations (see Appendix B), and Legal Citation in a Nutshell. We can also guide you through the Bluebook’s rules and help you answer questions.

  5. CRuPAC, CREAC, IRAC, or IREAC? We can help you find resources, such as textbooksstudy aids and examples to organize your writing, whether you have a single, in-depth issue or need to analyze a variety of sub-issues.

  6. You will likely start working this summer or next fall: The lessons we provide in efficiently and thoroughly researching only the relevant legal issues will help you in practice. For now, it might seem like the only concern is reading and going to class—and that should be your primary concern—but our research tips will help you long after you turn in your research memo and start looking to build real-world legal experience for your resume.

  7. We can introduce you to materials that can help you succeed in your other classes too! Struggling with Civ Pro? Concerned about Contracts? Troubled by Torts? Need some peace of mind? Learn better with audio you can listen to on the light rail? The law library has a wide variety of study aids to appeal to your particular learning style, and you can make an appointment with the librarians for help.

Take if from someone who could have used a lot more efficiency during her 1L research projects: You should Meet with a Librarian early on for your open memo. The time you save trying to navigate Westlaw and Lexis alone will be more than worth the 20-30 minutes for your appointment!

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

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

At the end of June 2017, I finished my 1L year at ASU by sleepily turning in my final memo for Intensive Legal Research and Writing. After the All-Journal Write-on Exam, thirty writing assignments in one month instilled a sense of urgency in my legal research: I want it done fast and I want it done well the first time. My friends and I pulled off several all-nighters in that great class working on objective memos, persuasive motions, informative client letters, and tough-talking demand letters to learn the following lessons:

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.

Seek secondary sources: If they’re available, 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 relevant case law, use headnotes, KeyCites, and Citing Decisions rather than trying to “Google” everything: Lawyers 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 Lexis, when you find your legal issue, you can click “Shepardize – Narrow by this Headnote” to find more relevant authority. 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.

For statutes, start by looking at the statute, and find 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, and navigate to helpful secondary sources that will collect relevant case law, such as the ALR Library, underneath the Context & Analysis tab.

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