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Introduction to Law

This guide provides a practical overview to the legal resources at the Highline library and available over the web.

Searching the Westlaw database

Westlaw (Thomson Reuters is the company which owns it) is a database that is available to Highline students, faculty, and staff.  If you try to access it from off-campus, you will need to log into it using your Highline username and password (this is the same username and password used to login to Canvas).


Westlaw is divided into five parts:

  1. All Content: General starting page for the database.
  2. Federal Materials: U.S. Supreme Court and federal appellate court cases; U.S. Code, Code of Federal Regulations, etc.
  3. State Materials: Divided into individual states - state appellate cases, statutes, state regulations, court rules, etc.
  4. Practice Areas: Broad categories such as Family Law, Immigration, Estate Planning, Criminal Law, etc.  Can find cases, statutes, regulations, etc.
  5. Tools: Includes access to the West Key Numbering System

Tips on searching Westlaw

  • Choose the area that you want to search (Washington State cases, United States Code, etc.). These choices are further explained on the bottom half of this page.
  • Keywords: have your keywords ready.  Keywords are the single words or phrases that indicate what you want to find. You can use as few or as many keywords as you want, but using a few well-chosen keywords generally leads to the best results. When searching, don't type in sentences like "cases on adopted children and immigration."  Separate your keywords into the different search boxes.  If you are using a phrase like child custody, make sure you use quotation marks ("").  Examples are "child custody", "antenuptial agreement", "search and seizure", etc. If you don't use quotation marks for phrases, the computer will look for the words independently and you will probably get back lots of documents not relevant to what you want. 
  • Connectors: the AND connector means you want hits with both terms.  For example, a search of  "parenting plan" AND "domestic violence" will bring back documents that have both terms.  The OR connector means you want documents with either term.  An example of when you would want to use a search with this might be "legal assistant" OR paralegal.  This would bring up documents using either term.  The NOT connector is when you want to exclude a term.  A search of "justifiable homicide" NOT manslaughter would result in documents excluding the word manslaughter.
  • Date: use the Date box to limit the date of your results, either to recent documents, or put in a date range if you want to be more specific.
  • After getting the basics down, try some advanced tips!
    • /s  will find terms in the same sentence.  Example:  "antenuptial agreement" /s infidelity  looks for these keywords in the same sentence
    • /p  will find terms in the same paragraph.  Example:  "high school" /p "illegal search"   looks for these keywords in the same paragraph
    • /# will find terms within # words of each other.  Example:  computer /7 pornography  looks for these terms within 7 words of each other
    • ! is the truncation sign, which picks up variations of the root of the word.  Example:  wiretap! as a keyword picks up wiretap, wiretapping, wiretapped, etc.