Graphics of Legal Research – Part 2: Depth Analysis or: Don’t Get in Too Deep!

When conducting legal research in Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law, you will encounter a number of graphics and symbols that are simultaneously helpful and confusing. In this three-part Graphics of Legal Research series, we are going to demystify some of the most common graphics that you may encounter when conducting legal research:

Part 1 – citator symbols
Part 2 – depth analysis
Part 3 – Ravel Law

Lexis shows how deep into the case one must read to find references to the authority in question. A depth bar with four blue boxes will be more likely to be relevant to your research than one with fewer colored spaces. Cases and statutes may be merely mentioned and not discussed in depth in opinions, so paying attention to the color bars will help you find useful analysis without wading through irrelevant cases. It’s a good, but not foolproof, way to research efficiently without spending undue time on irrelevant case law.

  • Open the case you want to research further.
  • Click on “Citing Decisions” at the top of the page.
  • Citing references are arranged by courts, with cases from the same jurisdiction as the authority being examined at the top.
  • Find the depth graphics below the names of the citing decisions.

Westlaw provides depth tools in its “Citing References” tool in legal materials. A depth bar with four green boxes will be more likely to be relevant to your research than one with fewer colored spaces.

  • Open the case you want to research further.
  • Click on “Citing References” at the top of the page.
  • Citing references are arranged by the nature of the treatment of the authority you are researching, with the most negative treatment at the top.
  • Find the depth graphics at the right side of the screen.

Bloomberg Law also includes depth signals, with a ranking out of five instead of Lexis’ and Westlaw’s four. However, it functions much the same.

  • Open the case you want to research further.
  • Click on “BCite Analysis” along the right side of the opinion.
  • Open “Citing Documents.”
  • Find the depth graphics at the right side of the screen, next to the case name.

Graphics of Legal Research – Part 1: Citators

When conducting legal research in Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law, you will encounter a number of graphics and symbols that are simultaneously helpful and confusing. In this three-part Graphics of Legal Research series, we are going to demystify some of the most common graphics that you may encounter when conducting legal research:

Part 1 – citator symbols
Part 2 – depth analysis
Part 3 – Ravel Law

On to citator symbols!

A citator is a tool that provides you with a list of documents and resources that cite to a specific document or resource, and alert you to whether any of those citing references are negative. Westlaw’s citator is KeyCite, Lexis’ is Shepard’s, and Bloomberg’s is BCite. A citator is helpful to a researcher who is trying to determine whether a particular piece of primary authority is still “good law” – it is vital that a lawyer does not rely on primary authority that is no longer “good law.”

  • Cases – “good law” means that a case has not been reversed or overruled by a subsequent court opinion or legislative action
  • Statutes – “good law” means that a statute has not been repealed by legislative action or invalidated by a court opinion
  • Regulations – “good law” means that a regulation has not been repealed by an executive agency or invalidated by either a court opinion or legislative action

Watch the short video below for a famous example of a lawyer who did rely on primary authority that was no longer “good law.”

KeyCite
KeyCite uses status flags to alert researchers to negative treatment. Not every piece of primary law will have a status flag – if it does not, the law is still “good,” but if it does, it means the law has at least some negative treatment. For cases, this negative treatment could be overruling, superseding, or another negative action. The two most significant symbols to watch for in Westlaw are the red flag and yellow flag.

A red flag warns that the case is no longer good law for at least one of the points of law it contains.
A yellow flag warns that the case has some negative history but has not been reversed or overruled.

Shepard’s
Shepard’s also uses color-coded symbols to alert researchers to negative treatment. A lack of a citator graphic indicates the law is still “good.” The two most significant symbols in Lexis to watch for are the red stop sign and the yellow trinagle.

A red symbol indicates that citing references contain strong negative history or treatment of the case.
A yellow symbol indicates that citing references contain history or treatment that may have a significant negative impact on the case.

BCite
BCite has a red/yellow color system as well for its two major citator symbols.

A red box with a white line in the center indicates the most negative results from the Direct History of Case Analysis, indicating the case was reversed, vacated, or depublsihed in full or in part.

A yellow box with a white triangle in the center indicates some negative/cautionary results from the Direct History or Case Analysis, indicating the case was modified, clarified or amended.

**IMPORTANT LAST NOTE ABOUT CITATOR SYMBOLS** – just because a piece of primary authority has a citator symbol next to it in one of the legal databases does not automatically mean it cannot be used for your purpose(s). The legal databases add a citator symbol for ANY negative treatment; that treatment could be from a different jurisdiction as the primary authority or for an issue unrelated to the one that you are relying on the law for – in both of those instances, the primary authority may still be “good law” for the legal issue on which you want to use it.

It’s Never too Late to Research Efficiently

Legal researchers should never allow a late semester time crunch lead to disordered research. Taking shortcuts in legal research can slow you down and add confusion, pressure, and tedium to the process. In addition, going without a plan can lead you to struggle through an enormous list of irrelevant results, misunderstand the law, or even select the wrong database altogether, missing important resources.

Meetings with the reference librarians at the Ross-Blakley Law Library are short, sweet, and efficient. We have the expertise to quickly identify the best legal research databases for your project and suggest research strategies that can help you craft quality writing projects, even in a time crunch at the end of the semester.

A few specific examples of what the reference librarians can help you with:

(1) showing you how to access and navigate the many available legal secondary sources so that you feel more confident in your search results

(2) identifying databases, both legal and interdisciplinary, outside of Westlaw and Lexis that may have relevant content for your inquiry

(3) providing tips and strategies for reducing the volume of irrelevant or unhelpful search results

In addition, we may already have a research guide that can help you identify helpful resources for your particular topic. We have guides on Bankruptcy Law, Tax Law, International Law, and much more!

Meet with a Law Librarian to get expert advice on all of your research projects, from office memoranda to seminar papers to Journal notes.

Magna Carta Display in the Law Library

Magna Carta, which means “The Great Charter”, is one of the most important documents in Anglo-American legal history. It established the principle that everyone is subject to the law, even the king, and it guaranteed due process protections to citizens.

The Law Library was gifted a beautiful illuminated copy of Magna Carta by Emeritus Professor Myles Lynk. It is hanging along the west wall of the third floor library space. This copy of Magna Carta is printed in an early form of English instead of the Latin of the original and is spread over six or seven heavy paper pages, instead of the one vellum sheet on which the original was written. It was produced for the 800th Anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta and purchased by Professor Lynk from the Honorable Society of the Inner Temple Inn of Court in London, England. Professor Lynk was participating as a panelist on comparative legal ethics at the American Bar Association’s commemoration of the 800th Anniversary event.

Professor Lynk’s generous gift was presented to the Law Library in appreciation of the Library staff’s “incredible support and assistance to the students and faculty at the law school.” We welcome you to stop by and take a close look at this beautiful document!

Study to Your Strengths with the Law Library

Everyone learns a little differently and when it comes to acing a law school final, studying with tools that work particularly well for you can be critical. The resources listed below address a number of learning styles and format preferences across a broad range of legal subjects, and we hope they will prove helpful as you begin to prepare for final exams. We want to emphasize that above all, however, pay attention to your professor and the direction he or she provides. He or she is the one who wrote your test!

  • In-depth explanation: The Examples and Explanations series provides detailed discussions of how the law operates. It also tests learners’ understanding with problems that can help a reader apply the law to a variety of fact patterns. E&E can be particularly useful to review any concepts that may have been more challenging in class.

  • Flashcards: Many students respond well to the challenge of recalling definitions, elements, or factors of legal concepts. Ask at the circulation desk about the law library’s collection of flashcards and check out our October post about creating your own flashcards.

  • Audio/videoVideo lectures and audiobooks can help students replicate the interpersonal, human approach to learning during Reading Week.

  • Flowcharts: The Crunchtime series provides flowcharts, which help students break down the often complicated procedures for analyzing facts into a series of simple steps.

  • Practice questions: The Exam Pro series provides an extensive array of practice questions to help students prepare for multiple choice finals, and the Friedman’s Practice Series challenges students spot issues in large fact patterns before essay exams.

Meet with a reference librarian for help finding the best resources for your learning style. Good luck with finals!

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Highlights from Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s Personal Library

Justice O’Connor’s interests were wide – the items received by the Ross-Blakley Law Library from the Justice’s personal library include joke books, photography volumes of the American West, historical texts, and fiction titles, among many other categories. Today we highlight a few books from the Justice’s collection that are in some way about one of the three branches of government.

Legislative branch
Before her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice O’Connor served in a number of legal roles in the state of Arizona. One of those roles was as a state senator from 1969, when she was appointed by Governor Jack Williams to fill a vacant position, until 1974 when she was elected as a Maricopa County Superior Court judge. Some of the items that Justice O’Connor kept in her personal library from her time in the Arizona Legislature were the Senate Rules pamphlet (1973-1974), Rules of the House of Representatives pamphlet (1973-1974), Parliamentary Speaking: A Handbook for Legislators (helpfully sub-titled “WHEN to say it; WHAT to say; HOW to say it”), and the Directory of the 31st Legislature (1973-1974).

Executive branch
Justice O’Connor also owned an 1857 copy of the “Memoirs of Washington” by Mrs. Caroline. M. Kirkland. The book bears a beautiful inscription to the Justice noting her important place in American history. The Internet Archive has made a copy of this title available digitally here.

Judicial branch
Finally, a title with a focus on the judicial branch in Justice O’Connor’s collection was “A More Obedient Wife: A Novel of the Early Supreme Court” by Natalie Wexler. The author’s website states that the book “tells the story of two women in the 1790’s—each in a troubled marriage to a Supreme Court Justice—swept up in the little-known but fascinating early history of our nation’s premier judicial institution.” An inscription from the author states: “For Justice O’Connor, In grateful appreciate of your enthusiasm for this project.”

Online Research: The Domain of Skepticism

Your writing and your research will be put to the test if you try to publish an article you write during law school. Most law students are strong writers, and professors or librarians can help you find a worthy topic. But research is another matter. It’s sometimes easier to find things online than in books or legal databases, which require Shepardizing and Keyciting and other labors. But it could be unreliable—much of the Internet has no place in a good law review article. Below is a guide to domain extensions to help you evaluate online resources and determine if you need an alternative or to shore up subjective claims with objective data. The extensions are ranked from most to least reliable.

.gov/.mil: These extensions indicate that a resource has a highly reliable government body or military institution at its controls. These generally provide among the most reliable information, but be sure information is timely and remember that even government agencies do engage in positive spin as well. Objective data may be reliable without further inquiry, but researchers will want to be skeptical of analysis and commentary.

.edu: This website belongs to an educational entity, which provides some objective data about subjects of research. However, even schools will engage in positive spin about themselves. Turn to reliable print resources or objective third party resources if information from a school may be presented in a less than objective way.

.org: This extension indicate that an entity is either a nonprofit institution or simply any private entity,. The website could belong to a private individual or for profit business. Thus, .org provides little extra assurance of reliability, and you will want to vet any information with more reliable government or objective data. You can trust legal research databases such as HeinOnline.org to present data objectively; never cite to Wikipedia.org, although you may want to use it as a starting point and cite to some of the materials to which the Wiki article cites.

.com/.net (and similar): These domain extensions indicate that a resource is controlled by a private entity or individual, including business names. Although they can be reliable for information about a particular business, keep in mind that information will likely be presented with a positive spin for businesses and certain other entities. Check resources on HeinOnline to see if other reputable authors have relied on materials you plan to use. Take a similarly skeptical view toward information with second generation extensions such as .biz or .dev.

Meet with a Librarian for tips on how to shore up your research for maximum reliability and, we hope, publication potential.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Costumes gone awry, haunted houses, and nasty decorations – oh my!

Have care while celebrating Halloween this weekend, because as these cases show, Halloween is fertile ground for legal issues:

Mary and her (flaming) little lamb
Susan and Frank Ferlito attended a Halloween party dressed as Mary and Her Little Lamb.  Frank’s lamb costume consisted of hundreds of Johnson & Johnson cotton balls glued to a set of long underwear.  While at the party, Frank tried to light a cigarette using a butane lighter and set his costume aflame, causing burn injuries.

Frank sued. A jury found in favor of Frank, but the District Court held that Johnson & Johnson’s failure to label their cotton balls as flammable was not a proximate cause of Frank’s injuries, that the injuries were not foreseeable, and that the jury’s verdict was against the clear weight of the evidence.  The court concluded, “Plaintiffs…failed to demonstrate the foreseeability of an adult male encapsulating himself from head to toe in cotton batting and then lighting up a cigarette.”  The Sixth Circuit Court of appeals upheld the District Court’s ruling.

Haunted, as a matter of law
Jeffrey Stambovsky bought a waterfront Victorian home in the Village of Nyack, New York, only to find out (much to his horror) that the house was widely reputed to be haunted.  In fact, the seller had reported seeing ghosts in the home in both a national publication (Readers’ Digest) and the local press.  Jeffrey sought to rescind his purchase contract and collect damages.  The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, agreed that Jeffrey should be able to rescind the contract and held that as to the purported ghosts haunting the home, the seller “is estopped to deny their existence and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted.”

Dead neighbors
A neighborhood feud over a 38-foot RV led Jeffrey and Vicki Purtell to display a series of tombstones in their yard, each of which chronicled the demise of one of the neighbors involved in the feud.  One tombstone read: “Bette wasn’t ready, but here she lies, ever since that night she died, 12 feet deep in this trench… Still wasn’t deep enough, for that wenches stench!” The Purtell’s lawsuit in this case was brought against the unlucky police officer who was dispatched to mediate the dispute and sued for his efforts, accused of violating the Purtell’s First and Fourth Amendment rights.

Flash Cards and Flowcharts: Optimizing Study for Your Learning Style

Legal study aids are increasingly catering to the vast diversity of learning methods that suit different students best, from visual aids such as flow charts to practice questions to audio and visual resources. Below we have highlighted tools for creating and accessing flow charts (great for visual learners) and flashcards (useful when you need to memorize a lot of information). We highly recommend adding these study tools to your class and exam prep process.

FLOWCHARTS
Flowcharts guide you through a legal issue, asking questions about the facts each step of the way to determine whether an element applies, and whether the analysis should continue. The structure of arrows and boxes is a big help for visual learners who quickly absorb information in tools such as graphics and maps. It can also help break down a complicated legal analysis into manageable, bite size bits, demystifying questions about estates in land or the Erie doctrine.

You can make your own flowcharts in Google Slides. Check out this short how-to video from our Electronic Resources Librarian, Sean Harrington, to learn more. You can choose shapes with the shapes tool that symbolize steps along the way of a legal analysis, such as rectangles for yes or no questions and ovals for the various potential outcomes of the analysis. The line tool includes an option with arrows to help you organize a complicated analysis, including curves and angled lines to help you fit all elements of a rule into your document. Making your own flowchart helps you process the rules yourself, and understand the process in a different way from traditional distilling of the rules into words alone.

The Law Library also offers access to commercial resources with flowcharts through its online study aids subscriptions and print study aids collection; specifically, check out the Emanuel Crunch Time series (available electronically on Wolters Kluwer).

FLASHCARDS
It’s no secret that part of the challenge of studying law is memorizing vast swaths of information. It’s a big part of the bar exam. Your outline is an important part of that process of committing the law to your memory, but reading and rereading does not always work optimally for everyone – that’s where flashcards come in handy.

The Law Library also has a collection of flashcards in its study skills section, and our online study aid platforms have additional resources that may be helpful. Writing your own cards can help you process the information on a much deeper level, though, as you process the law and craft your own rule statements. Here again, Sean Harrington has a video on how Google Slides can help.

Meet with a Librarian for more study tips!

Adding terms and connectors searching to your legal research toolkit

Have you ever searched on Westlaw, Lexis, or Bloomberg and found that your “Google”-like keyword searching is bringing up an overwhelming list of 10,000+ resources, and worse, none of those resources seem useful? When this happens to you, we recommend terms and connectors searching. Terms and connectors searching, also called Boolean searching and advanced searching, will enable you to take charge of your search. It is a way to ensure your search results are comprehensive and precise. We’ve mapped out steps below to help you become comfortable with making terms and connectors searching your default search strategy.

1. Assess the problem
Before you search, consider:
What’s the area of law? Am I familiar with it, or do I need to get some background?
What words (jargon, terms of art) are used in this area of law?
What type of materials do I want to search?

2. Write an issue statement

3. Turn the issue statement into a search query
A mnemonic for doing this is TARC:
Terms
Alternatives
Root expander
Connectors

T = Terms — Identify key terms
Which terms in the issue statement represent the most legally relevant facts and/or issues?  

A = Alternatives — Identify alternatives to the key terms
Brainstorm words that legal writers might use in place of the key terms you identified. Helpful options include listing synonyms and related terms, which may be broader or narrower in scope than the main key term (ex. if the main key term is car, alternative terms could include automobile and vehicle). You can connect these within parenthesis in your search using the OR connector, discussed below.

R = Root expander
Using the ! character (root expander) can help account for different word endings/variations.
– Ex. constit! = constitute, constitution, constitutional…  
– Plurals: the singular will retrieve the regular plural.

C = Connectors
Use connectors to dictate the relationship between the search terms you enter. The two main connectors are OR and AND.
OR expands search results
When used between two words, OR means that the results may contain either or both words.
AND limits / restricts search results
When used between two words, AND means that the results must contain both words.
Variations of AND:
w/s — within the same sentence
w/p — within the same paragraph
w/# — within # words (e.g., w/4 equals within 4 words)
The connectors w/s and w/p are particularly useful in issue-based searching. If words are in same sentence or paragraph, there is a greater chance they’ll relate to one another and to your issue, and therefore that the document will be relevant.

Phrase Searching
Always put phrases in quotation marks.

4. Write out your search query with all the terms, alternatives, root expanders, and connectors in place
Here is an example of how an issue statement related to drunk driving can be crafted into a terms and connector search:

Issue statement: Is an individual who was found asleep in his car, which was parked on the side of the road with the engine off but the keys in the ignition, guilty of driving under the influence?

Terms and connector search: (asleep OR unconscious OR “passed out”) AND (“drunk driving” OR DUI OR intoxicated OR inebriated) AND ((car OR vehicle OR automobile)/s (park! OR stationary))

When running a terms and connectors search, what you are doing is specifying the relationships that must exist between the terms in your retrieved documents, instead of letting the database search algorithm determine those relationships for you. In Westlaw, a space between terms is by default interpreted as an “OR” connector (first amendment = first OR amendment); in Bloomberg Law, a space between terms in interpreted as an AND connector (first amendment = first AND amendment); in Lexis, it depends on the other connectors in the search as to how the space in interpreted by default. Don’t let the databases push you around! Using terms and connectors searching puts you in control of your search.

For individualized help with terms and connectors searching, make an appointment with a law librarian!