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Case Finding and Advanced Searching Strategies

Overview

You should start your research by consulting secondary sources. Secondary sources will save you time because they describe or explain the lay of the land and point you to relevant primary sources (e.g., statutes, regulations, and cases). Westlaw and Lexis provide access to different secondary sources based on the publisher and other licensing arrangements, although there is some overlap of a few resources. Always try to check both Westlaw and Lexis during this step of the research process. 

The Robert Crown Law Library also has a print collection of many secondary sources. Most of these are located in the second floor reading room and are for in-library use only. Please check SearchWorks, our library catalog, to see whether we have a resource available in print and whether it is still being updated. Some of our print resources are also available on Westlaw or Lexis, but many are not. 

Some excellent secondary sources are also available on other online platforms. If you're researching California law, check if CEB OnLaw has any publications on your topic (link requires SLS login). And Bloomberg Law is particularly good for anything involving business law or intellectual property. If you are affiliated with Stanford Law School and would like to set up a Bloomberg Law account, please email reference@law.stanford.edu.

Methods for Finding Secondary Sources

You can search or browse for secondary sources on Westlaw or Lexis by:

Please click on any of the above methods for detailed information on how to identify and access relevant secondary sources for your research. 

Finding Relevant Sections Within Secondary Sources: Table of Contents

A Table of Contents is a list of the chapters and section titles within a secondary source. In a print secondary source, the Table of Contents is usually located at the beginning of the volume or at the beginning of each volume in a multi-volume set. Browse through the Table of Contents to find a relevant chapter or section, or simply to get an idea of the contents and organization of the source. Browsing the Table of Contents can also help show you the "shape" of the area of law. For example, perhaps you notice a section in a treatise on your topic dealing with takings concerns; that angle hadn't occurred to you before, but reading the section shows that it's highly relevant to your research question. 

One page of the table of contents of a print treatise   One page of the table of contents of a print treatise

You can also browse the Table of Contents of a secondary source available in electronic format on Westlaw or Lexis. On both databases, after you select a particular secondary source, you will be brought to the Table of Contents. On Lexis, you have the option of conducting keyword searches across the entire secondary source or just the Table of Contents.

Finding Relevant Sections Within Secondary Sources: Indexes

An index is an alphabetical list of subjects or names with references to the relevant pages or sections within the secondary source that discuss these terms or concepts. In a print secondary source, the index is usually located at the end of the volume or may have its own volume at the end of a multi-volume set. Browse the index for keywords or terms to find a relevant section within the secondary source. Note that you may have to check a few different terms before you find what you're looking for; for example, material on Title IX might appear under "Title IX," or under "sex discrimination," or under both. Indexes vary in their level of detail and quality. 

One page of the index of a print treatise   One page of the index of a print treatise

Most secondary sources on Westlaw and Lexis have an index available for you to browse through or run keyword searches across, but they may be somewhat challenging to find. 

Lexis: The index for a secondary source is usually available near the "Advanced Search" option for that secondary source, above the search bar, or before the "Publication Information" section of the secondary source. 

Screenshot from Lexis showing the links to the index of a treatise above the search bar and below, above the link to publication information.

Westlaw: The index for a secondary source is usually located in the right sidebar under "Tools & Resources" after you have selected the secondary source.

Screenshot of Westlaw showing the link to the index in the right-hand sidebar of a treatise's page.

Finding Relevant Sections Within Secondary Sources: Keyword Searches

On Westlaw and Lexis, you can also run keyword searches across many secondary sources or within a particular secondary source. For best results, try conducting terms and connectors searches. Please see the Terms & Connectors Searching tab of this guide for tips and tricks for conducting terms and connectors searches.

After conducting a keyword search and selecting a result, always check the table of contents to see where the selected section falls within the secondary source to ensure that it is relevant. This can also help you find more relevant information in the source - maybe you've found a somewhat relevant section through a keyword search, but looking at the table of contents reveals a neighboring section that's directly on point, or shows that not just this section but the entire chapter relates to your topic!

Accessing the table of contents from a section within a secondary source on Lexis: 

Click on the "Table of Contents" tab on the left-hand side of the page to expand the table of contents and get links to the sections immediately surrounding the section you're viewing. Click on "View full table of contents" at the top of that list to view the section in context in the full table of contents. 

Screenshot of a section's page on Lexis showing the links to the table of contents.

Accessing the table of contents from a section within a secondary source on Westlaw:

When you're viewing a section, Westlaw will display the titles and links to surrounding sections on the left-hand side of the page. Click "View Full TOC" at the top of that list to view the section in context in the full table of contents.

Screenshot of a section's page on Westlaw showing the link to the table of contents.