How to use Westlaw

  • Connect to the database here. If prompted, log in with your Brookes ID and password.

    The first time you access Westlaw you will be asked for your name and email address.

    The homepage contains a single search box. This automatically searches everything in Westlaw, but you can click on options to narrow your search down. You will have greater control over your search, however, if you use the tabs along the top of the screen (cases, legislation etc.). 

    You can return to the homepage from anywhere in Westlaw by clicking on the Westlaw icon in the top left of the screen.

    On the Westlaw homepage you'll see the invitation to 'browse by topic' followed by an alphabetical list of broad areas of law. 

    If you click on one of these, you may then see:

    • A new search box, allowing you search for materials just in this area of law
    • A summary of what this area of law covers
    • Latest developments - the most recent cases, publications etc. in this area of law
    • Link to the most important legislation on this topic
    • Links to more specific areas of law

    If you click on one of these more specific areas, you'll see an overview article as well as a selection of recent, relevant cases and journal articles. These overview articles are great places to start researching a topic. They are short thematic posts, in the style of Wikipedia, but they are written by legal experts. 

     

    Remember, Westlaw overview articles are not sources you should be citing in your assignments. Rather, it is a springboard to help you find other, more scholarly material. This process works in two main ways:

    • There are links throughout overview articles to key cases and legislation elsewhere in Westlaw. This is a quick way to ascertain what the significant sources of law are in a particular field. 
    • Reading an overview article on an unfamiliar topic can be a great way to get an overview of the topic and, crucially, pick up some of the vocabulary used in it. You can then go on to use some of this vocabulary in the search boxes in the cases, legislation or journals tabs of Westlaw.

    Download a one-page guide (contains screenshots) of how to best use topics on Westlaw.

    English case law

    • From any page in Westlaw, click on Cases in the dark blue bar at the top of the screen.
    • You can search for cases by the names of the parties, citation  (e.g. [1967] 1 WLR 716), or just put your topic of interest in the Free Text box. You do not need to fill in every box.
    • The results list displays a list of results matching your query. Each result includes the case name, subject, keywords and tells you where the case has been reported
    • You can look at an abstract and the history of each case by clicking on the Case Analysis link at the bottom of each result
    • Westlaw can also provide you with the full text of law report. If a law report is available for the cases in your results list, a link to the law report's citation will be included at the bottom of each result..
    • Down the right hand side of any case, you will be able to download a PDF of the case, print it, or save it to your personal Westlaw folder. You can also click on the alarm bell icon to create an alert. This means if something significant happens with this case in the future, Westlaw will email you and let you know.
    • If you go back to the search screen by clicking edit search, you'll see a link to more options on the right of the screen. Clicking this gives you some additional useful search boxes. Again, you do not need to fill in every box. 
    • Once you're clicked on 'more options', you can search for a particular court, judge or date. You can also limit your results to cases that cite a particular piece of legislation.

    • Download a two-page guide (contains screenshots) about how to find and use cases in Westlaw.

    European case law

    • From any page in Westlaw, click on More in the dark blue bar at the top of the screen then select European Union. This will open in a new window.
    •  Tick European Union cases, then use the search box at the top of the screen. You can search by the case name, case citation or a topic.
    • Westlaw doesn't like the / symbol that occurs in many EU case numbers e.g. C-46-93. Alternative ways of finding this case are to search for its name - Factortame III - or its citation - [1996] ECR I-1029
    • If you get too many results you can use the filters down the left hand side of your results to narrow them down. Click on the title of any case to read it.
    • If you want to download or print a case, click on the arrow next to the email (envelope) icon in order to see these options.

    • Download a two-page guide (contains screenshots) about how to find and use EU content in Westlaw.

    US case law

    • From any page in Westlaw, click on the dropdown arrow next to Region:UK at the top left of the screen. Select US from the list. This will now open in a new window.
    • Underneath browse, click on the word cases.
    • You can now either use the search box to search all federal and state case law, or pick an individual court or case.
    • As you move through categories, the left hand tab on the search box changes name to show you what you'll be searching.
    • If you get too many results you can use the filters down the left hand side of your results to narrow them down. Click on the title of any case to read it.
    • If you want to download or print a case, click on the arrow next to the email (envelope) icon in order to see these options.

    Other international case law

    • From any page in Westlaw, click on the dropdown arrow next to Region:UK at the top left of the screen. Select International from the list. This will now open in a new window.
    • Underneath browse, click on the word cases.
    • You can use the search box to search across multiple countries, or pick an individual country. Note that many countries' cases are not included on Westlaw.
    • As you move through categories, the second tab on the search box changes name to show you what you're searching.
    • If you want to download or print a case, click on the arrow next to the email (envelope) icon in order to see these options.
    • To find multi-national materials (e.g. International Court of Justice decisions): use the 'International materials index' on the right of the screen to browse a full list of all sources, including ICJ decisions.

    Tips on searching for case law

    • English cases are published in law reports and there are many different series of law reports - some databases only contain certain law report series. Sometimes you will need to try more than one database to find your case. Westlaw does contain a wide variety of cases but does not contain all case law. Have a look at the library's case law page to learn more about law reports and case law.
    • If you have a long or complicated case name, try just using a couple of keywords from your reference. Alternatively you can search for the citation e.g. [1981] 1 WLR 711
    • There are a huge amount of cases each year. Not all cases are reported. You can still use unreported cases in your work, but do ask yourself if there is a more appropriate, reported case that you could use instead. Look at the unreported cases paragraph in section 3.1.4. of the OSCOLA handbook for advice on referencing unreported cases.

    English legislation (Acts of parliament and statutory instruments)

    • From any page in Westlaw, click on Legislation in the dark blue bar at the top of the screen.
    • You can search for the title of the Act or SI (e.g. Equality Act 2010) or search for a phrase or word in the free text box (e.g. "houses in multiple occupation")
    • If you know the number of the section you want to look at you can put the name of the Act/SI in the title box and then the section number in the provision number box. Remember to select the appropriate description (e.g. section) from the drop-down provision number box You will then skip the screen with multiple results and can jump directly to that section. You can still go from here back the whole Act by clicking on the Act's title at the top of the page. 
    • Legislation is always evolving. Westlaw allows you to compare two versions of the same piece of legislation, and highlights the changes for you. Learn more about comparing legislation on Westlaw.

     

     

    Journals covering English and EU law

    • From any page in Westlaw, click on journals in the dark blue bar along the top of the screen.
    • You can search for journal articles by title, author, or search for a topic or phrase in the Free Text box. 
    • The results list displays a list of results matching your query. Each result includes the article title, citation, subject and keywords.
    • If you get too many results, try using the filters down the left hand side to narrow your results down. Alternatively, click on edit search to go back to the search screen and put in additional search terms or choose more precise search terms.
    • You can look at an abstract (summary) of each article by clicking on Abstract.
    • Westlaw may also provide you with the full text of journals articles. If the full text is available for the articles in your results list, a Full Text link will be included at the bottom of each result.
    • If you only want the results list to include articles that have their full text in Westlaw, tick 'full text available' down the left hand side of the results list.
    • Remember, if the full text of an article isn't in Westlaw we may still have access to it through one of our other providers. Make a note of the reference, then search for the journal title in the Journal Titles tab on the search box on the library homepage.
    • You can get more information and advice about using journals and journal articles on the law journals page.

    Download a one page guide (contains screenshots) about how to find and use journals in Westlaw.

    Journals covering international law

    • From any page in Westlaw, click on the dropdown arrow next to Region:UK at the top left of the screen. Select International from the list. This will now open in a new window.
    • If you click on World journals on the right of this page, you can search across a range of journals from the UK, USA, Australia, Canada and other countries.
    • You'll see that the second tab on the search box is now renamed World Journals, allowing you to search all journals in Westlaw. Alternatively, select a country or region from the list first in order to narrow your search area.
    • If you search for cases or journal articles on a particular topic, then you may want to know if anything new is published on that topic in the future. To avoid having to remember to return to Westlaw and repeat the search, you can create an alert.
    • At the top of the results page, click on the alarm bell icon, give your search a name and save it. Westlaw will then regularly repeat the search for you and email you when any new results are found.
    • If you want to snooze or delete an alert, click on alerts at the top of Westlaw.
    • When you’re reading a case, look for the alarm bell icon down the right-hand side. You can ask Westlaw to alert you by email if the case is appealed, cited by another case etc.
    • You can keep track of all of your research by saving documents into folders. You could have a folder for each module or assignment, to keep things organised.
    • To add something to a folder, look for the folder icon to the right of any document on Westlaw.
    • Click on folders at the top of the Westlaw to see all your folders in one place.

    Do you get too many search results in Westlaw? Are the useful results surrounded by lots of irrelevant results? One solution might be to use some of these tools. Book yourself on to a LexisLibrary and Westlaw: Advanced Searching workshop if you want to learn more about using these really powerful tips.

    You don't need to remember any of these. Just remember that next to every search form in Westlaw is a link labelled terms and connectors. This will give you a handy reminder of all these tricks.

    Finding words near each other

    • Use /s to find words in the same sentence. For example, jury /s reform will find references where both words occur in the same sentence.
    • Use /p to find words in the same paragraph. For example, police /p review will find references where both words occur in the same paragraph.
    • Phrase searching: use quotation marks "". For example, "gig economy" will find references where the words occur as a phrase.

     Combining words

    • Use and to combine words and narrow down your search. For example, arbitration and medical will find references where both words occur in the same document.
    • Use or to broaden your search. This is useful if there are a number of similar words (synonyms) to describe the same idea. For example, arbitration or mediation will find references where either word occurs.
    • Use % to exclude a term. For instance, drugs % narcotics will find references which contain the word drugs but do not contain the word narcotics.

    Truncation

    • Use an exclamation mark ! at the end of a root of a word to retrieve all possible endings. For instance, employ! will find employ, employee, employer, employment.

    Universal character

    • The symbol * represents 1 character. For example, wom*n will retrieve woman or women. When you place the character at the end of a word, you specify the maximum length of the word. For instance, object*** retrieves object, objects, objected, objective, objection and objecting.

    A note about using connectors in the International and EU sections of Westlaw 

    If you put more than one word in a search box, Westlaw UK and Westlaw (international) will respond differently. Westlaw UK assumes all your words are linked with 'and' so will only retrieve results where all your words occur. In contrast, Westlaw (international) assumes they are linked with 'or' so will retrieve results where at least one of your words occurs. To avoid this in Westlaw (international), use and between words if you want more precise results

    In the black bar at  the very bottom of every Westlaw page is a link to user guides. Here you will find step-by-step illustrated guides to using different parts of Westlaw.

     

    You may also want to download or print the library's  PDF guide to using Westlaw for English law.

     

    If you are a GDL, LLB or LLM student you will be provided with training from the Academic Liaison Librarian for Law at the start of your course. The slides from this training will be available in Moodle for you to refer back to throughout your course.

     

    The library runs Lexis and Westlaw workshops, at both a basic and advanced level. These are open to all students in all years.  You can find out more and book a place. If you want to come to the advanced workshop without attending the basic one first, make sure you are comfortable with what the basic workshop covers as the second workshop builds on this. 

     

     

    And, of course, you  can always get in touch with Charlie Brampton, the Academic Liaison Librarian for Law. Charlie can see you individually or in small groups.