In this article, we offer recommendations for using keywords to research a legal issue.

Please note: This article concerns keyword searching, but using our CARA A.I. search engine is another great way to start your legal research. All you need is a document relating to the issues in your case. To learn more about using CARA, please see: What is CARA A.I. and how do I use it?

Step 1: Run a fairly broad search to get a sense of the universe of authorities on your topic.

To start your keyword search, type in terms describing your legal research issue into the keyword search bar. We recommend beginning your research with a broad search to see the extent of the authorities on your topic. 

Here are some do's and don'ts for figuring out which terms to use in a keyword search:

-Do: keep your search simple - At this stage, you want a broad search to see the universe of authorities on your topic. Focus on just a few legal terms. (As a rule of thumb, if you are using more than 10 words in the keyword search bar, that is probably too many). 

-Don't: try to explain your entire case in a single search - Try to focus on one legal question at a time. You can add details regarding the parties, motion at issue, and cause of action of your case by applying filters after you run your search, as will be discussed in Step 2, below.  

-Don't: use a lot of generic terms - Certain words appear so often in court opinions that it is impossible to use those words, by themselves, to find anything relevant. For example, the keyword search for a generic term like "motion" will not help you. The word "motion" appears millions of times in court opinions, making it difficult for you to sort through all those cases to find what you need. Likewise, just searching for the words plaintiff, defendant, party, court, or file will return a lot of irrelevant results. 

-Do: use legal phrases - You can use quotes to look for a specific phrase. For example, instead of just searching for "motion" (which is too generic), you could search for "motion to reconsideration" through your search results. Putting "motion for reconsideration" in quotes tells our database to look for that motion specifically and not other types of irrelevant motions. 

However, you only want to search for exact phrases if you are reasonably certain that these phrases actually appear in court opinions. For example, you would not want to search for "dismiss complaint filed by holdover tenant" since it is unlikely that a court has used that exact (long) phrase. But you can use "holdover tenant," as that is a legal term that does appear in court opinions. 

-Do: use the root expander: You can use the exclamation point (!) to tell our database that you want to look for all variations of a word. Root expanders are commonly used with verbs so that your search captures the past, present, and future tense of a verb. For example, if I want to find cases on witness impeachment, and I just type in impeachment, I'm limited to cases that just mention that word. I miss seeing cases that use different verb tenses (impeached, impeaching, impeach, etc.). But by searching for impeach!, I see the cases that discuss impeachment, impeached, impeaching, etc., which yields a much more complete universe of cases.

-Do: use proximity connectors: Proximity connectors tell our database that you want to see cases containing words within a specified distance of one another. This is especially helpful if you want to find cases involving specific outcomes or events. For example, if I want to find cases where a motion for reconsideration was granted, I could search for "motion for reconsideration" /s granted.

The connector /s is a proximity connector that tells our database to look for "motion for reconsideration" within the same sentence as the word granted. You can also use /p to look for words within the same paragraph as one another, or /n to look for words within a specified number of words as one another. (Please note that n = a number, so you should search for "motion for reconsideration" /10 granted, if you wanted the phrase "motion for reconsideration" to appear within 10 words of granted). 

-Don't: start with a restrictive search: If you want to use proximity connectors, we recommend starting with a broad connector (like /p for the same paragraph) first. If your search using a broad connector returns a lot of results, you can then narrow those results by using our filters (described below), or by replacing the /p with a narrower connector (like /s, for same sentence). You can always narrow your results, but if you start with a very restrictive search, you miss out on seeing potentially helpful cases and additional avenues for your research.

After you have chosen your keywords, along with any connectors, you can then select your jurisdiction from the right-hand side of the search bar, where it says "All State and Federal." The default setting is to show you all cases from all jurisdictions, so if you want to only see cases from a specific court, you will choose a jurisdiction from the menu. For more information on our jurisdiction filter, please see How do I filter my results by jurisdiction?

Please note: This article includes general recommendations regarding keyword terms and connectors that you can use to find cases. But for a full list of all the connectors that Casetext supports, please see What Boolean connectors do you support?

Step 2: Narrow your universe of cases

After you run your search and are taken to the search results page, you will see a heading on the left-hand side of your screen that says, "Filter and narrow." Under the heading, we include four different types of filters, as well as another search bar, which you can use to narrow your search results.

If you get a lot of results after performing Step 1, you can narrow your results using our filters, or by performing another a keyword search, or a combination of both.

Use our filters to reduce the number of results 

In addition to our jurisdiction filter, we offer a motion filter, cause of action filter, party filter, and date filter, as well as a way to filter out unpublished opinions. 

-Hiding unpublished opinions: The default setting on Casetext is to show both published and unpublished opinions. Depending on your research needs, however, you may want to see the published opinions only. For example, the rules of your jurisdiction may prohibit you from citing to unpublished opinions or may state that unpublished opinions lack precedential value. To hide the unpublished cases on your search results page, click on the blue text that says, "Published and unpublished" under the search bar. That will cause a dialog box to appear, which gives you the option to check a box to hide unpublished cases. Check that box and click the blue "apply" button to hide the unpublished cases. That filter removes opinions that the court has explicitly designated as not intended for publication (ex: excludes those opinions that contain express disclaimers stating that they are not to be published, including "not intended for publication," "not to be published," "non-precedential decision," and similar language) - detailed info on this HERE.

-When to use our motion filter: If you are researching a legal issue in connection with a motion to dismiss, a motion for summary judgment, or a motion to compel discovery, we recommend using our motion filter to restrict your results to cases on your issue that pertain to that motion type. To access this filter, click on the "View All Filters" drop-down menu that appears under the search bar on the search results screen:

Then, check the box next to your desired motion type and click the blue "Apply" button at the bottom of the menu to apply the motion filter:

-When to use our cause of action filter: If you are researching a legal issue in the context of a specific type of legal claim or cause of action (for example, a copyright infringement claim, a claim for breach of fiduciary duty, etc.), we recommend using our cause of action filter. Using that filter will narrow your results to include only those cases involving your cause of action.

To access this filter, click on the "View All Filters" drop-down menu that appears under the search bar on the search results screen:

Then, check the box next to your desired cause of action. To see a complete list of all causes of action, click on the link to "View more causes of action," which will take you to our cause of action menu. Then, click the blue "Apply" button at the bottom of the menu to apply the cause of action filter:

-When to use our party type filter: If you are researching a legal issue that involves a specific industry or type of party (such as an insurance company, a hospital, an airline, etc.), you can narrow your search results to include only those cases involving that type of party.

To access this filter, click on the "View All Filters" drop-down menu that appears under the search bar on the search results screen:

Then, check the box next to your desired party type. To see a complete list of all party types, click on the link to "View more party types," which will take you to our party type menu. Then, click the blue "Apply" button at the bottom of the menu to apply the party type filter:

-When to use our date filter: The default setting on Casetext is to show you cases that were decided at any time. But if you are interested in cases that were decided within a specific date range, you can indicate those dates by clicking on the drop-down menu that says "All dates" under the search bar on the search results page. Then, type in your desired starting year and ending year and click on the blue "Apply" button to apply the date filter:

For more information on our filters, please see How do I narrow my search results? and Can I search by cause of action?

Use keywords to narrow your search

You can enter additional terms into the search bar that appears on your search results page to further narrow your results. This search bar is known as our "search within results" bar, as it searches within your original results for cases that meet additional requirements:

For example, let's say you searched for copyright! /p (phrase and song) in Step 1. (That search looks for all variations of the word copyright within the same paragraph as the words phrase and song). But that search returned over 100 results, and you are only interested in cases discussing the copyrightability of phrases in rap music. You can enter "rap music" or (rap /s (music or song)) in the "search within results" bar to limit your results to the subset of cases that discuss the copyrightability of phrases in rap music.

Need additional help? If you are a Casetext subscriber and would like a more in-depth tutorial on legal research, we recommend attending our live training webinar, which you can register for here. You can also contact our support team at support@casetext.com.

Did this answer your question?