Billable hours are a fine balancing act, and time spent researching can easily start to accumulate, even for an experienced attorney, when encountering a new issue. Avoid having to cut precious billable hours and save time while conducting online legal research with the 5 tips below.
1. Use key numbers
Key Numbers are the fastest, most effective way of locating authority. This helpful tool can and should be used throughout your research. If you are just getting a feel for possible legal issues and are not yet sure which direction to take your research, start with Key Numbers and glean key terms before even running a search. Key Numbers are linked on the Westlaw home page and organized hierarchically by topic. Did we mention that Key Numbers are not only a fast, but are always free?!
2. Set yourself up for success. Formulate a concise legal question to research.
If you’ve ever found yourself spinning your wheels and getting nowhere in your legal research, chances are you either formulated your research question too narrowly or too broadly, with conflated legal issues. It happens. One common pitfall is focusing too much on facts. Factually similar cases are important as they are the most relevant, but facts should not be your primary focus. Rather, articulate the broader legal issue, and then ask which facts, if any, are legally relevant. Need help understanding the broader legal issue? Turn to a trusted Secondary Source or see tip #1.
3. Search broadly – narrow from there. Identify the bounds of the universe of possibly relevant materials.
Once you’ve honed in on your key terms, you can run a plain language search across all content, simply using the global search bar (powered by WestSearch®) on the top of every page as an excellent starting point. This will ensure that you bring back relevant content in all your key areas, such as Cases, Statutes, Secondary Sources, and Key Numbers. Within those key content sets, utilize the filters to tailor your results further.
4. Call the reference attorneys
Even if you are just starting out on your research, take advantage of the Reference Attorneys’ searching expertise. They can help you with any of the above, whether you’re stuck or just starting out and trying to define the parameters of helpful materials. Remember the 7-minute rule, if you have been working on a research problem for more than 7-minutes reach out to Reference Attorney. Their expertise will get you back on track.
5. Minimize out of plan costs
What are chargeable events? Chargeable events occur whenever you access out of plan content. The most cost effective way to access such materials is generally to add them to your subscription. If you find yourself coming back to the same out of plan treatise, for example, save yourself some time and money reach out to your Westlaw representative for more information on adding it to your plan.
For more online legal research tips, visit our training and support page.
About the author
Silvia is a Reference Attorney for Thomson Reuters, helping customers daily with formulating search queries and utilizing Westlaw. She has previous experience as a municipal attorney and is barred in both Colorado and Maryland.