Vatterott OKC Paralegal Studies

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CALR: Westlaw Overview

Westlaw is a paid legal database.  Yet again – it is important to plan your search.  Clients generally foot the bill for legal research.  You don’t like it when people waste your money, right?

The search query can be used to search a specific database for certain words or a combination of words.  It can search full text or just head notes.  You can read the retrieved document online, print it, or download it.  If and when you find a relevant case in Westlaw, please print it or save it to your computer for future reference.  That saves money.  You won’t have to log in to find it again.

  • Know (or have a general idea) of which databases to use in your search.  You can think you’ve put together a great query until you come back with 500 results…or no results.
  • Know the party names or know your issue.
  • Determine how you want the information delivered to you.  Again, I recommend saving it or printing it.
  • I’ve heard a tale that Westlaw has a tab just for paralegals.  I don’t have Westlaw access.
  • If you have a citation, you can use Find by Citation
  • You can find a case by Party Name.
  • Westlaw has a database wizard to help you pick the correct database.

The first thing you need is a good query for your search.  You need to know how to create and refine it.

  • Keywords and synonyms.
  • Is it a natural language search?
  • Is it a terms and connectors search?
  • Do you need an expander?
  • Use singular terms.
  • Be careful using quotation marks.
  • If you use an acronym, use periods.

Your search terms will be highlighted in your document.

Once you have your case you need to check the cite.  In Westlaw it is known as KeyCite.  It helps you know whether or not a case or statute is good.  You need a good case or statute because your client’s case and your firm’s reputation rides on it.

  • Red – no longer good law for at least one of the points.
  • Yellow – some negative treatment, but has not been revered or overruled

Gives an alert feature to notify the user if the status changes.  Using KeyCite allows you to look at other documents that used the case as a reference.

Westlaw can also search some state public records.

Computer Aided Legal Research – Public Records

Lovingly referred to as CALR…

First – let’s review some search strategies:

  • Plan your search.  The Internet is a great place to get lost and waste more time than you intended.  Know exactly what you are after.
  • Learn to use advanced search options.
  • Make your query more specific by learning the basics of boolean: +, -, quotation marks, and a combination of those.
  • Put your most important words first.

You can find a plethora of legal information on the Internet if you know where to look.  There are free sites that are really good.  There are free sites that are really bad.  There are paid sites.

You can find FRCP, FRE, Criminal Procedure, and Bankruptcy procedure all online…in addition to federal district and appellate cases, and your state cases.  You can also find EOs, statutes, legal forms, and references.  You simply MUST consider your source.

The Internet is best suited for factual research.  You need to take time to become a good researcher.  You need to learn how to verify credible sources and how to discredit websites.

Some public records are available online.  You can buy books that list public records websites.  That will cut down on your search time.  I purchased my book from Half Priced Books.  Every level of government will have their own rules as to what will be made available to the public…particularly online.  If you subscribe to a website that allows you to search a lot of public records at once, make sure you know how to sift through the information to find what you need.

A not-so-all-inclusive list of public records:

  • Statistics
  • Corporate records (secretary of state)
  • Court records (not all)
  • Licenses
  • Criminal records
  • Property information
  • Sex offenders
  • Adoptions (limited)
  • Bankruptcies (PACER)
  • Foreclosures
  • Judgments
  • Liens
  • Copyrights, TMs, and patents
  • Building permits and zoning
  • MVR

When you look for public records you can use a lot of different sites:

  • yahoo.com
  • google.com
  • facebook.com
  • myspace.com
  • spokeo.com
  • whitepages.com
  • Court websites

Just, again, know what you are looking for…have a research plan.  Make sure you know the spelling of the name.  Also remember that typos on public records can and do happen.

Use a browser that allows you to use multiple tabs (which I think as of the day I am putting this together is most of them).

Find and bookmark databases that pertain to your area of law, expert witnesses, and that hold good paralegal information (like this one).  Check them.  Add them to your feed reader or subscribe via email.

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