Is my legal research accurate?

Mary Schlaphoff
Contract Marketer, Thomson Reuters

Some things in the life of an attorney are optional. From going solo to going paperless to going to lunch, you can choose to do it or not. However, you know that being confident in the accuracy of your legal research is not optional. If you failed to uncover that a case was overturned or a statute revised, your credibility is done, and your case may be, too.

There’s no reason for that to happen if you have a proper research plan combined with the right tools. Read on for tips to ensure that your legal research is accurate.

Recognize the Limits of Free Research Services

Free legal research services can sound great in theory when you’re under pressure to control costs. However, the limitations of free research services can cost you in the long run and put your research accuracy at risk. Free services are free because they are missing valuable features that save you time and ensure that you are viewing the most up-to-date and accurate cases, statutes, and analytical materials. Such services may not maintain their content, which may be out of date, making the research process more cumbersome and making you less likely to determine whether your case or statute is the most recent.

Get to Know the Westlaw Enhancements That Help Improve Accuracy

Westlaw Attorney Editors keep all materials up-to-date and flag legislation or subsequent case law that may impact a particular law or case. Westlaw editorial enhancements like the following streamline the process of determining the status of cases, statutes, and regulations.


KeyCite comprises several features and is available for case law, statutes, regulations, administrative decisions, and patents. For case law, KeyCite is most extensive and consists of several features:

  • KeyCite Flags: Pay attention to the flag color code: A yellow flag indicates a document has some negative treatment. A red flag indicates a document is no longer good law for at least one point of law. A blue-striped flag indicates a document has been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court (excluding appeals originating from agencies).
  • Citing References Tab: Click into this tab to find materials that cite to the underlying document.
  • History Tab: This tab shows the direct case history. Check here to see if a higher court has overturned the decision.
  • Negative Treatment Tab: Here you’ll find cases from Citing References that provide direct negative treatment of the underlying case.
  • Table of Authorities Tab: This reflects the authority upon which the case relies. Look for flags to determine whether this underlying authority is still good law.

Statutes are another key content set with KeyCite features. When researching statutes, a red flag lets you know that the statute has been amended, repealed, superseded, or held unconstitutional or preempted in whole or in part. A yellow flag tells you that the statute has been renumbered or transferred by a recent session law; that proposed legislation affecting the statute is available; or that the statute was limited on constitutional or preemption grounds or its validity was otherwise called into doubt. In addition to KeyCite flags, statutes include Citing References.


Ensuring your research stays up-to-date after you’ve completed it is as important as finding reliable authority. If you know that a particular relevant statute is often the subject of proposed legislation in your jurisdiction, set up an alert to keep track of changes. Setting up a KeyCite or WestClip Alert will automatically notify you when there is a change in status to your case or when new Citing References to a statute become available on Westlaw.

Additional Tools

Westlaw offers you a number of built-in enhancements like the ones above to ensure your research is accurate. Take a look at what’s new on Westlaw.

Reference Attorneys

When in doubt, contact an experienced Reference Attorney to provide guidance at any stage during your Westlaw research. Reference Attorneys are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and you can reach them by phone or via chat.

Don’t have Westlaw? Sign up for a free trial to see how Westlaw can help you be more confident in the accuracy of your legal research.

About the author

Mary Schlaphoff is a contract marketer for Thomson Reuters ProView eBooks specializing in thought leadership, marketing research and branding intelligence. Prior to joining Thomson Reuters in 2016, Mary provided marketing research, strategy and writing services to large and small clients in industries including technology, healthcare and financial services. She holds a BA in Political Science from Coe College and an MBA from the University of Washington.