One of the most challenging aspects of online legal research is getting started. Sometimes, you will have an idea of search terms or concepts to use in a search, but in other situations, you may be confronted with a complicated hypothetical or unfamiliar area of the law. In these situations, finding the right legal research path can quickly become frustrating and stressful. Fortunately, the global search box on Westlaw, powered by WestSearch, is designed with these situations in mind, helping you find relevant results quickly. Just enter your search in plain language – or a variety of other ways – and away you go!
How do I use WestSearch?
Simply type your plain language key search terms into the global search box the top of the screen, select your jurisdiction, and search. That’s the basis at least. Your search then runs through a long-standing history of proprietary analysis of the law that cannot be duplicated by any other search engine to deliver relevant results that even contain phrasing different from your query. In the end, WestSearch quickly ranks documents by relevance so you see the most important cases at the top of the list saving you time. And that’s just the beginning. Check out the short video below for more information what WestSearch can do for you.
As a Reference Attorney, I spend my days assisting attorneys with complex legal research questions. I start about 90% of my legal research projects with a plain language search on Westlaw and here’s why:
- WestSearch is especially good at retrieving results that are related to a certain concept, as opposed to retrieving results centered on my specific terms
- WestSearch also allows me to test out my search terms and see what types of authorities exist in a particular area
- Reviewing the results of a plain language search will help me determine what connectors to use in a future Boolean search
- The best way to find the exact language that a legal researcher is looking for is to simply type that language into the global search box
- WestSearch will often retrieve the desired search terms, and when it does not, reviewing the results can help me refine and edit future searches
For more Westlaw tips and tricks, check out these related articles:
- How Can You Best Start Your Legal Research?
- 5 Tips for Efficiently Using Westlaw for Legal Research
- 5 More Ways to Conduct Legal Research on Westlaw Efficiently
- How to Find Cases by Particular Judge or Entity
WestSearch is just one feature of Westlaw. Check out the Westlaw Training and Support page for how-to videos on more Westlaw features.
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About the author
Jessica Zaiken Sienkewicz is a Reference Attorney at Thomson Reuters. A native of Minnesota, she received a B.A. from Drake University, and she received her J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. She currently lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.