A large part of the law school experience involves identifying and learning how to use research resources. You'll be learning the tools you need to find answers to legal questions when you don't have the guidance of a professor. You'll almost certainly encounter Westlaw early in your legal studies. A giant in the legal research industry, Westlaw provides comprehensive research resources and valuable training. The following article provides an overview of how a familiarity with Westlaw's products can help ensure your success as a law student. (Disclaimer, West, like FindLaw, is part of Thomson Reuters.)
Although simply diving into the vast resources Westlaw makes available is one way to acquaint yourself, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material. You'll want to learn how to effectively search and filter Westlaw's databases in order to find exactly the documents you need for your research. To get started, you'll want to register for your law student account and seek information about how to use Westlaw's many tools.
Fortunately Westlaw provides a number of free online trainings and webinars that can help explain how to best use the resources available. Training in Westlaw's features and productivity tools, the use of Westlaw terms and connectors, advanced searching, and using Key Numbers are all available at the Westlaw law student center. These resources even include user guides prepared specifically for law students.
If you continue to have difficulty using Westlaw the company also provides customer support for law students that can help you work out any issues you may encounter.
In addition to materials focused on helping you use Westlaw more efficiently, there are also modules that provide advice and training to help you network and interview, prepare materials for write-in competitions, and succeed at law review. There are courses that provide assistance with citation checking and materials that provide an overview of many areas of legal practice. As an added benefit you can extend your student password for Westlaw access through the summer, which can allow you to continue your studies or conduct research on an employer's behalf without creating additional hassle or expense.
The West Education Network (TWEN) is an online course management system where students can access course materials, submit assignments, sign up for office hours with a professor, and otherwise participate in their class. TWEN is also frequently used by moot courts, clinics, student organizations, and other groups that need to coordinate their activities. You'll want to sign into TWEN if you are active in an organization that uses the service or to look over the TWEN resources and user guides to learn how the system can work for you.
Westlaw's digital resources are thoroughly annotated and continually updated. Conducting research using your law library's books can result in confusion about the status of cases and laws. Although publishers often update changes with supplements or "pocket parts" it can be difficult to ensure that you have received the most up-to-date information. There can be a significant delay between the change in a law or a case's authority and the receipt and filing of the update, since updates need to be printed and distributed. By comparison, digital resources can be uploaded just hours after a decision is rendered.
Westlaw's online resources also simplify some of the more complicated legal research tasks. Links to referenced cases make it possible to follow citations to their source in a click and shepardizing cases (checking to ensure that a case hasn't been overturned on appeal) is made as simple as a click, instead of spending hours tracking appeals.
Westlaw also provides comprehensive resources to assist in interpreting case decisions. Important case decisions include notes by Westlaw attorneys that provide background or explain complex legal concepts. These notes include links to relevant materials not cited within the case text and can help provide a more complete understanding of the decision.
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Finding and researching cases and laws is just part of what it takes to succeed at law school. You'll need to develop strategies to prepare class outlines, study for exams, and pass the bar. You'll find materials with advice about these and other relevant topics throughout FindLaw's Law Students section.