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Case Finding and Advanced Searching Strategies

What Are Headnotes?

Headnotes are summaries of a point of law that appear at the beginning of a case. Headnotes are written by editors at Westlaw and Lexis (sometimes the language is verbatim from the text of the opinion).

Headnotes are excellent research tools to assist you in finding other cases that address similar legal issues, but do not cite headnotes in your work product. When citing a case, you should only cite to the actual text of the opinion written by the judge or justice. 

Headnotes on Westlaw

While reading through an opinion on Westlaw, you may encounter hyperlinks with numbers embedded throughout the text. 

Screenshot of case text in Westlaw showing embedded headnote numbers

If you click on one of those links, you can view the corresponding West Headnotes summarizing that point of law. 

Screenshot of case headnotes in Westlaw, showing headnotes corresponding to numbers shown in previous screenshot

Cases That Cite This Headnote: To find other cases that cite a particular headnote - that is, other cases that cite this case for this point of law - click on the "Cases that cite this headnote" link located below the one-sentence summary of the point of law.

Screenshot showing location of link to cases citing a headnote, under the headnote's text

Cases that cite a headnote consist of the citing references that specifically address that particular point of law in the case. Because cases usually address many issues, this can be a useful way to pinpoint the most relevant cases for your legal issue. 

 

West Key Number System: To view other cases from within or across jurisdictions addressing similar issues, use the West Key Number System in the right column that correspond with the headnote of interest by clicking on one of those key number hyperlinks. 

Screenshot of headnote in Westlaw, showing corresponding key numbers to the right of the headnote text

Please see the West Key Number System tab in this guide for more information on how to use the West Key Number System and change jurisdiction. 

Headnotes on Lexis

As you read through an opinion on Lexis, you will see links to headnotes embedded throughout the opinion. These headnote links have been inserted by the Lexis editors. 

Screenshot of case text on Lexis showing embedded headnote numbers

Clicking any of those headnote links will take you up to the LexisNexis Headnotes section of the document. These headnotes summarize the points of law discussed throughout the case. 

Screenshot of headnotes on Lexis, showing headnotes corresponding to numbers shown in previous image

Shepardize - Narrow by this Headnote: To find more cases that discuss the same point of law, click "Shepardize - Narrow by this Headnote."

Screenshot of Lexis headnote, showing "Narrow by this Headnote" link below headnote text

This is similar to viewing the citing decisions for a case, but will show you all cases that cite to this case that reference the same issue corresponding with that headnote. In other words, it is a more narrow, refined Shepard's Report. 

Screenshot of results after selecting "Narrow by this Headnote"

More like this Headnote: This feature allows you to find other headnotes similar to the particular headnote appearing in your case. This function allows you to find other cases that pertain to this point of law. Unlike the "Shepardize - Narrow by this Headnote" function, the cases retrieved through the "More like this Headnote" function do not necessarily cite to the original case. 

Screenshot of Lexis headnote showing "More like this Headnote" link following the headnote's text

You will likely need to further narrow the set of results by searching within the results or selecting a particular jurisdiction. 

Screenshot of results after clicking "More like this Headnote" link, highlighting filters in left-hand sidebar