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How to Supercharge Your WestLaw Results

By: San Diego Family Law Appellate Attorney Dennis Temko


Go to law school. Learn how to become a lawyer. Pass the bar exam. Practice law. If you and I had similar experiences, step two, “learn how to become a lawyer,” involved reading case law. For the most part, case law resided in books we bought prior to each semester from the bookstore. The faculty provided us with the books. We did not have to conduct any research to find the cases. The book’s authors did that part for us.  Something was missing, research.


Step four, “practice law.”  In the world outside law school, authors do not do our research for us. Since authors previously performed that function for us however, we never developed research skills. Now it is incumbent upon us to learn the skills necessary to find the material we need to run a successful practice.


This article presents in a question and answer format six WestLaw functions to help you fill in research skills you might have missed in law school.  These functions will enable you to supercharge your searches and will hopefully help you find that occasional needle in a haystack case or secondary source. 


  1. Q: How do I research cases or practice materials in my own area?  I’m a San Diego family law appellate attorney and I’m tired of wading through criminal cases and other law that I’m not interested in.


A: WestLaw has given you a way to research cases, law reviews, forms, treatises, statutes, and other materials within your practice area.For example, you can search for specific terms in only family law cases to the exclusion of other areas of law.


In order to do this, find the word “directory” on the very top of the WestLaw home screen. Click on it.


After clicking on the directory link, find the link entitled “Topical Practice Areas.”


Clicking on the “Topical Practice Areas” link will bring up a list of practice areas.  If for example you only wanted to search the reporters for family law cases, you would click “family law” --> “state cases” --> “state databases” --> “California.”  Once you have clicked on California, a familiar looking search input field will appear.  This input field will look the same as the input field you usually use to search for case terms, only this time, any terms you input will only return family law cases with those terms, not torts, not criminal, not real property, just family law.


2.  : I'm a San Diego family law appellate attorney and  I want to supercharge my searches just like the tile of this article, what can I do?


A: Have you heard of the secret In-N-Out burger menu?  Well this is WestLaw animal style.  There are a number of hidden menu options you might not be familiar with.  I’m going to use “title” from the following list (look down below for the list) as my first example.  To use any of these modifiers you take the first two letters “TI” or “SY” or “DI” or any two letter acronym from the list below I have provided and follow it by your search term in closed parenthesis.  Below I have an example of ti(“in re marriage”) and I am searching California reported cases.


What have I just done?  I just told WestLaw I want reported cases that have the exact words “in re marriage” in the title.  What does “ti” or “title” mean?  According to WestLaw and the list I have provided below, it is the parties in the case.  So when I hit search, I’m only going to get cases back that have the words “in re marriage” in the case title.  I’m not searching the entire case for these terms, just the parties.


As another example, you could search federal cases for ti(Roe and Wade).  I ran this search and evidently there are 24 federal cases where there are parties with the names Roe and Wade somewhere in the case name.


The same goes for the rest of these two letter acronyms.  hg(“Dennis Temko”) is going to just search holdings for my name.  he(“Dennis Temko”) is only going to search headnotes for my exact name. So on and so forth.  Want to find out if I have been a judge on a case?  Type in ju(“Dennis Temko”) unfortunately that will return zero results.         


Search modifiers for cases:



Formal name of a case and a complete description of all adverse parties.



A summary of the case prepared by West, a Thomson business, another publisher, or the court. The BG and HG fields, when available, are part of this field.



Combined TOPIC and HEADNOTE fields.



A summary of the nature of the case and party designations. This field, when available, is included in the SYNOPSIS field.



Summary of the major holdings in the case. This field, when available, is included in the SYNOPSIS field.



Editorial descriptions of legal rules and principles discussed in the case.



Library references.



Name of the judge writing the principal opinion.



Names of counsel.



Opinions and the names of the judges.



Text of concurring opinions or opinions that concur in part and dissent in part and the judges who wrote the opinions. E.g., use CON(Stevens & abortion) in SCT.



Text of dissenting opinions or opinions that concur in part and dissent in part and the judges who wrote the opinions. E.g., use DIS(Marshall & abortion) in SCT.



West's or other publisher's editorial notes, and related jury verdict documents.



Docket number(s) assigned to the case.



List of judges participating in the decision, when it is provided by the court. E.g., to retrieve decisions in which Judge Chasanow participated, use PA(Chasanow) in MD-CS.




Unique references for citing to a specific case.


For this next example, let’s talk about statutes.  Try this on for size. From the WestLaw home screen select “California Statutes Annotated” as your search database.  Enter ca(murder) as your search term.

What’s going to happen?  WestLaw is going to return only statutes that have the word “murder” in the actual name of the statute.

Some of the results are:


  • § 44425.5. Criminal insanity; final revocation for felony sex or controlled substance offenses or murder

  • § 190.25. Murder of transportation personnel; penalty; special circumstances

  • § 3041.2. Governor's review; parole decision regarding murder conviction; statement


Noticing anything? All of the results have “murder” in the statute title.


 Search modifiers for statutes:



Unique references for citing to specific documents.



Headings that precede the caption.



Section, rule or canon number and heading.



Text of the document.



Defined terms located in text



Statutory credits.



Citation, prelim, caption, text, and credit fields.



Historical notes affecting document.



Miscellaneous references relating to document.



Notes of Decision.


 I just provided you the secret menus when searching for cases and statutes, the two most useful.


3.   Q: I have an extensive library in my office and you know what, I really like the books. Sometimes you just can’t beat paper.  I can thumb through statutes and practice guides much easier. I think paper is king.  How can WestLaw beat that? 


A: Paper is definitely better in some respects but there is a WestLaw function that will give you a similar effect.  When you are looking at any statute or practice materials there is a link to the left that says “table of contents.”

Above is California Penal Code section 187.  Click on “table of contents.”  You will see that it is going to open up the “book” right to where 187 is and show you all the other statutes around 187 as well.  Once you get into the table of contents, you can navigate the statutes like a book.  This doesn’t just work on statutes.  You can do the same thing with Rutter or Witkin too. 


While we are here, looking now (below) at the table of contents for California Penal Code section 187 you will notice some links at the bottom and some check boxes to the left.

By clicking any of the check boxes to the left, you can select items to “search” or “expand.”  For example, if I click the check box next to “CRIMES AGAINST THE PERSON” and click “search,” you now have the ability to search for specific terms within all of the statutes covered under crimes against the person. 


4.  Q: So you have told me about the secret menu, how to do searches in my practice area, and how to find the table of contents, do you have a favorite WestLaw feature Dennis? Are you holding out on us?

I do have a favorite feature I use every day.  This is “Limit Key Cite Display” feature.


Go to any old case you want, above for example is a family law case, and go to the citing references.  Down at the bottom towards the left there is a button that says “Limit Key Cite Display.”  This button packs a punch.  If you don’t already know about it, this button will change the way you do legal research.  After clicking on it, you will see a pane that says “headnotes, locate, jurisdiction, date, depth of treatment.”  All these links will allow you to tailor your citing references.   

6.  Q. If I have more questions, where can I go to get answers?


     A.  WestLaw provides excellent customer service.  You can call knowledgeable WestLaw attorneys at 1-800-733-2889.  These attorneys are experts and their help has proved invaluable to me in the past.  Do not hesitate to call them.  The cost is already included in your subscription.  Some of the tips I went over above I learned from WestLaw reference attorneys.

The “locate” link allows you to search for any terms located within the citing references while “headnotes” allows you to restrict by headnote.  You can combine any number of these categories to additionally restrict the number of citing references WestLaw will give you.


5.  Q. How do I quickly look up a code provision?


A.  You can use the “find by citation” input field you use to look up cases to look up California statutes.  To do this, 1) pick a code from the following list 2) add the word “California” to the front of it and a statute number to the end (for example “California Family Code 1101”) 3) enter your combination into the same field you use to look up case citations.


Business and Professions Code

Harbors and Navigation Code

Civil Code

Health and Safety Code

Code of Civil Procedure

Insurance Code

Commercial Code

Labor Code


Military and Veterans Code

Corporations Code

Penal Code

Education Code

Probate Code

Elections Code

Public Contract Code

Evidence Code

Public Resources Code

Family Code

Public Utilities Code

Financial Code

Revenue and Taxation Code

Fish and Game Code

Streets and Highways Code

Food and Agricultural Code

Unemployment Insurance Code

Government Code


Vehicle Code

Water Code
















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