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Case Finding and Advanced Searching Strategies


Although conducting a full-text case search across Westlaw or Lexis may have been your first instinct when approaching a case law research problem, this strategy is best conducted near the end of your research process because the other methods for finding cases are frequently much more efficient and will save you time.  Conducting a full-text case search at the beginning of a research process may lead you astray because you might not be aware of the correct terminology or terms of art.  Toward the end of your research process, you are much better equipped to run full-text searches. 

Compare the cases retrieved through full-text case searches against the cases you have already retrieved through other case-finding strategies.  If you see only cases that you have already encountered, this suggests that you are ready to end your research and begin drafting your work product.  Check the new-to-you cases to see if you have overlooked something important. 


There are a couple of different ways to get started searching cases in Westlaw.  The easiest is to simply use the search bar from the home page, making sure to select the jurisdictions to search by clicking the button just to the right of the search field (the default selection will be "All State & Federal").  You should make sure your full-text case search is conducted across all courts for which there is binding authority on your court.  For instance, if you are filing a brief in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, you can select "Ninth Circuit Federal Cases," which includes the U.S. Supreme Court, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, as well as all of the district courts and bankruptcy courts within the Ninth Circuit. 

Screenshot of Westlaw search bar highlighting jurisdiction selection button

Options shown after clicking jurisdiction selection button

You can also click on "Cases" from the homepage, then select the relevant jurisdiction to conduct a full-text case search.

Screenshot of Cases page listing jurisdictions

After you've selected your jurisdiction(s), conduct an advanced terms and connectors search across this subset of cases to ensure that the results represent the complete universe of all cases that contain those specific terms.

Screenshot of search bar showing search terms ("endangered species" AND turtle /p habitat), with Supreme Court and 9th Circuit selected as jurisdictions

Decisions by other district courts within the Ninth Circuit, such as the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii or the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, are not binding on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, so you can filter out these results after conducting your search.

Screenshot of results page, highlighting jurisdiction filter in left-hand sidebar limiting results to cases from the Supreme Court, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Northern District of California

Conduct a few different full-text searches. Remember that if your full-text searches are retrieving way too many or too few cases, you can narrow or broaden your searches by modifying the terms and connectors.  Please see the Terms & Connectors Searching tab in this guide for guidance.  Compare these cases against the cases you have already retrieved through other case-finding strategies. 


Similarly, you can search across cases using the main search bar on the home page.  Be sure to select "Cases" from the Categories dropdown and your desired jurisdiction from the jurisdiction drop-down to the right of the search field. 

Screenshot of the Lexis searchbar highlighting the category and jurisdiction drop-down menus

You can also click on "Cases" under the "Content" tab on the home page, and click on your desired jurisdiction on that page.

Screenshot of Lexis Cases page

Conduct a terms and connectors search across the set of cases in the relevant jurisdiction.  The subset of cases for which you ran your search across may contain cases from courts that are not binding on your court.  You can filter those cases out after running your search by checking the boxes for your desired jurisdictions in the left-hand sidebar, under "Court".  You may need to click "Show all" to see all court options. 

Screenshot of Lexis search results in cases, showing jurisdiction filter in left-hand sidebar