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Research Guides

Database Tutorials



Westlaw is a database that holds primarily documents related to court cases. These include:

  • both federal and state cases; 
  • all the way from the 1st Circuit to the 11th Circuit;
  • covering topics such as Family Law, Insurance Law, Bankruptcy, Criminal Law, Immigration, and many more.

If you're looking for a particular kind of document, Westlaw is great for:

  • Cases
  • Statutes & Court Rules
  • Regulations
  • Administrative Decisions & Guidance
  • Secondary Sources (news, law reports, law reviews, etc.)
  • Briefs
  • Proposed & Enacted Legislation
  • Proposed & Adopted Regulations


It operates very similarly to our peer-reviewed article databases (Academic Search Premier, ProQuest Central, etc.), and has items that you can't find in any of our other databases, which makes it an excellent resource for you to use.

As always, if you need any help that you can't find here, feel free to contact us! We're more than happy to help!


Basic Searching

When you get to Westlaw from the library website, the homepage will look like this:

Westlaw homepage screenshot


If you're just looking to browse articles on your topic without much concern for specificity, you may want to use the Basic Search function. You can begin searching right away by just typing in the search term you'd like, then click on the orange magnifying glass!

OR, you can limit your results by jurisdiction by clicking on the "All Federal" link between the search box and the magnifying glass. You'll get a box that looks like this:

Westlaw Limit Jurisdiction screenshot


Click on the states/courts you're interested in searching, or just click on "All Federal" and/or "All States" to search through all the courts.



Advanced Searching

You can also choose to do advanced searching if you want to pinpoint the documents you get back in your results. To get there, click the "Advanced" link to the right of the orange magnifying glass at the top of the page:

 Westlaw Advanced search screenshot


Type your terms into the search boxes as appropriate. Take a look to the right to see tips to help you find what you need! 

There are very few limiters available to you here, so you'll have to do that from the results page once you enter your search terms. However, just as in the basic search, you can select which jurisdictions you'd like to search. The process is exactly the same as in the basic search.

Once again, when you're ready, click the orange magnifying glass to the top right!



Limiting Results

The first page you'll be brought to is an Overview of your results. This gives you two or three examples of each type of document available to you. The page will look something like this:

Westlaw results overview screenshot


To see more results, select a type of document on the left side of the page (or you can select "All Results" to see everything in Westlaw that relates to your topic). Once you've clicked on a type of document, you can then properly limit your results. Your page will look something like this:


Westlaw results screenshot


To narrow your results, use the left column, scroll down to the heading "NARROW", and then select "Select Multiple Filters" if you want to use more than one. Then you can select whichever filters you like, go back up and click "Apply Filters", and your results will refresh!

You can narrow your results by jurisdiction, date, reported status, topic, judge, attorney, law firm, key number (Westlaw's subject organizational system), party, or docket number. 


In the center of your page are the resulting documents, just as usual. The title is in large blue letters, below that in small black letters is the citation information, then there are a few snippets that contain your search terms. Your terms are highlighted in yellow.

On the right is a list of related documents that you can view if you so desire.


Reading a Case

Good news! Everything in Westlaw is already full text! So you can spend more time reading and less time searching. To get to an article, simply click on its title on the results page, and you'll get a page that looks a bit like this one:

Westlaw full document screenshot


Up at the very top of the page in small letters is the basic citation information for the case: the case name (the names of the plaintiff/petitioner and defendant/respondent), the abbreviated form of the case citation, and the date of the decision.

For landmark cases (like the one above), Westlaw will give you an option to "Brief It", which will give you a synopsis of the case and the decision.

Then there is the document itself. At the top of the document, centered on the page are all the details of the case: names of the parties involved, names of the court (or Commission) that heard the case, identifying numbers, argued and decided dates, etc.

And then there is the case document itself, which is the context/background of the case (Syllabus) and decision made by the judge(s) (Opinion).





There's also a small menu to the top right of the document that looks like this:

Westlaw case menu screenshot

From this menu you can:

  • Jump to a section of the article by using the "Go to" link
  • Search in the document by using the magnifying glass
  • Change the display options (size of the text, font of the text, width of the text) with the two As
  • Email, Print, Download, send to Dropbox, or Kindle with the envelope
  • Make the article full screen with the four arrows



Depending on the case, sometimes there will also be a menu above the document that looks like this:


Westlaw case tabs screenshot

These tabs are great to see how this case relates to other cases, and help you build context for the case you're looking at. There are:

  • court documents and dockets (Filings),
  • Negative Treatment in other cases (a test of how controversial the opinion is),
  • the history of the case (a web of how this case upheld or reversed decisions in other cases in the past, and how those cases did the same, etc. etc.),
  • other cases/orders/decisions that cite this case (Citing References), and
  • the list of the cases relied upon as authority by this case (Table of Authorities).