Free Case Law

Categories Help Formulating Free Case Law Searches

To search using lexisONE® Community, you need to select a jurisdiction (state case law search) or court (federal case law search) and then formulate your search.

Click a link below for more information about formulating your search. Examples are included.

Categories Developing a Search Request

The lexisONE® Community product uses Boolean search logic. A Boolean search request includes the keywords and phrases that reflect ideas essential to your research, and the optional terms and connectors that let you search for word variations and link your search keywords and phrases. Using other options, such as date limitations, wildcard characters, and segment searching, can help shape your search results.

The LexisNexis® research system searches for documents containing the specific words and combinations of words in your search request. Every word (or form of the word) in your search request must appear in the document for that document to be included in your search results.

To develop a search request, use the five-step process below.

  1. Identify the topic :

    Determine the area that you want to research. Information about efforts in the fast food industry to use recyclable packaging.

  2. Choose your search words :

    The words should reflect ideas essential to your research topic. Include alternative words, and avoid words that are too general. For example, to find articles about efforts in the fast food industry to use recyclable packaging, you might use these words:
    recycle    package    container     fast food

    Note:  Our service is not case-sensitive.

  3. Use truncation and wildcards to include word variations :

    ! Finds a root word plus all the words made by adding letters to the end of it :
    recycl! finds "recycle","recycling" and "recyclable."
    * Holds one space for a character at any point in a word :
    bernst**n finds the "ei" and the "ie" spelling of the name.

    Note : Words that work best with ! are those that are unique in their truncated form. For example, if you search for fir! (thinking that you want to find "fired," "firing," or "fires"), your results will also include "first," "firm," and so on.

  4. Link the search words in a search request using connectors :

    Connectors such as OR, AND, W/N, and so on define relationships between your search words. To see the list of all connectors and information about how to use them, click the "more ..." link on the search form or click the link above.

  5. Specify date restrictions:

    If you wish, specify date restrictions.

Once you've decided on your search request, you can run the search. For example

recycl! W/25 fast food W/10 container OR package

finds documents where either "container" or "package" is in the same sentence as "fast food," and "fast food" is in the same paragraph as "recycle" (or its variants).

Depending on your results, you may then decide to edit your search, change your source, or use a number of other options for searching.

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Categories Words

Words are the basic units of a search. A word is a single character or group of characters, alphabetic or numeric, with a space on either side.


McPhersonone searchable word
§1988one searchable word
§ 1988two searchable words

A hyphen is treated as a space, so a hyphenated word is seen as two words.


pretrialone word
pre-trialtwo words
pre trialtwo words

A period is treated like a space except when:

  • The period is preceded and followed by a number.

    EXAMPLE : 99.9 is one word

  • The period is preceded by a space and followed by a number.

    EXAMPLE : .999 is one word

  • The period is preceded by only one alphabetic character and followed (with no spaces in the sequence) by any number of single letters each of which is followed by a period.

    EXAMPLE : F.B.I. is one word, while F. B. I. is three words (because of the spaces after the periods)

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CategoriesSearch Terms: Guidelines

  • Choose search terms that are specific or closely related to the topic of interest.

    EXAMPLE : medical malpractice OR physician! negligence

  • Choose terms you might use when discussing the topic with a colleague, including current jargon or buzzwords.

    EXAMPLE : Freedom of Information Act OR FOIA

  • The words should reflect ideas essential to your research topic, such as treatments, cures, or side-effects.
  • Include alternative words and abbreviations.

    EXAMPLE : mri OR magnetic resonance imaging

  • Avoid words that are too general, such as "illness" or "behavior."

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CategoriesProper Names

Because of the many ways in which a proper name can be expressed, use the following search pattern to obtain a comprehensive result:

  • (first name OR first initial W/3 last name)

EXAMPLE : To find documents referring to Mary Jones, use this search: (Mary OR M W/3 Jones)

Note : This method ensures comprehensive results and includes variations such as Mary J. Jones, M. J. Jones, Mary Jane Jones, Jones, Mary J., and Jones, M. J.

Some names searched using this pattern will yield irrelevant references in the search results. When this happens, you can add additional search terms to decrease the likelihood of irrelevant results. For example, if Mary Jones is a CPA, you could use this search: (Mary OR M W/3 Jones AND CPA OR C.P.A. OR accountant)

  • The order of surname and forename may differ.

    EXAMPLE : To find documents that contain R Smith and Smith, R, use a proximity connector like W/n:

    smith W/2 r

  • The presentation of multiple initials may differ.

    EXAMPLE : rj smith would find RJ Smith but not R.J. Smith (with periods) or R J Smith (with spaces). To find all possibilities, use an OR connector:

    (rj OR r j OR r.j W/3 smith)

    Note : The system interprets the periods in initials as blank spaces.

  • A name may be given with or without middle initials.

    EXAMPLE : To find articles by Raymond Smith, Raymond J. Smith and Raymond J. A. Smith use a proximity connector like W/n:

    (raymond W/3 smith)

  • To account for all the possible combinations of name presentation, we recommend a combination of techniques.

    EXAMPLE : (smith W/3 ray! OR r) would find all of the above examples.

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  • Using the singular word form will retrieve the singular,plural, and possessive forms of most words.

    EXAMPLE : city would find city, cities, city's, and cities'

  • The system will not automatically find the plural form of words that end in "us" or "is", or other irregular plural forms.

    EXAMPLE : bonus would not find bonuses

    EXAMPLE : child would not find children

    Note : Use the OR connector in these instances.

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CategoriesConnector Order and Priority

Connectors operate in the following order of priority:

  1. OR
  2. W/n, PRE/n, NOT W/n
  3. W/sent
  4. W/para
  5. W/SEG
  6. NOT W/SEG
  7. AND
  8. AND NOT

If you use two or more of the same connector, they operate left to right. If the "n" (number) connectors have different numbers, the smallest number is operated on first. You cannot use the W/para and W/sent connectors with a promimity connector (e.g., W/n).


bankrupt! W/25 discharg! AND student OR college OR education W/5 loan

is operated on in the following manner:

  • Because OR has the highest priority, it operates first and creates a unit of student OR college OR education!
  • W/5, the smaller of the W/n connectors, ties together the word loan and the previously formed unit of student OR college OR education!
  • W/25 operates next and creates a unit of bankrupt! W/25 discharg!
  • AND, with the lowest priority, operates last and links the units formed in the second and third bullets above.

Changing Connector Priority :
To change the connector priority, use parentheses. Connectors inside parentheses have priority over, or operate before, connectors outside parentheses.


bankrupt! W/25 discharg! AND (student OR college OR education W/5 loan)

Prioritizes as: (student OR college OR education W/5 loan) AND (bankrupt! W/25 discharg!)

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CategoriesWildcard Characters

Using wildcard characters and truncation lets you easily combine or eliminate search words, making your search simpler.

  • Use an exclamation mark (!) to find a root word plus all the words made by adding letters to the end of it.

    EXAMPLE : acqui! would find variations on the word acquire such as acquires, acquired, acquiring, and acquisition

    CAUTION : Use ! only on unique roots:

    fir! will find fired, firing, and fires, but will also find first, which you may not want.

  • Use an asterisk (*) to replace characters anywhere in a word, except the first character. Use one asterisk for each character you want to replace.


  • wom*n would find woman and women
    bernst**n would find bernstein and bernstien

    Use the asterisk to hold a space for variations in spelling at any point in a word.


    bernst**n would find both the ei and the ie spelling of the name

    If you use asterisks at the end of a word, they do not all have to be filled, but may find up to the specified number of characters.


    transplant** would find transplant, transplanted,transplanter

    Note : transplant** does not find transplantation or transplanting because only two wildcard characters are used. To find all the variations of transplant , use the ! wildcard character instead of the asterisk.

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CategoriesDate Restrictions

Sometimes you need to limit your searches to a particular time frame. You can either use the dropdown list box to define your date restriction, or you can enter dates in the From field, in the To field, or in both fields. The most effective date format is: mm/dd/yyyy

You can use another form of date restriction if the documents in the source you're using contain date segments. You can restrict your search to the date segment of documents when you want to find cases decided on, before, or after a particular date. Because date segments involve numbers, they are "arithmetically searchable." Date segments use the arithmetic operators shown below:

  =  is equal to or is
  >  alt greater than or after
  <  bef less than or before

EXAMPLE : The following are examples of date restrictions.

date = 1997 or date is 1997 date > december 31,1997 or date aft december 31,1997 date < 1/1/1997 or date bef 1/1/1997

For more information about segment searching, see the "Segment Searching" topic below.

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CategoriesSegment Searching

Documents have a structure that is common to all documents of that type. In the lexisONE® Community product, this structure is called segments, which are the natural parts or divisions of the document. For example, cases contain name, date, court, opinion, and dissent segments, among others.

You can restrict your search to a specific part or segment of a document, such as the court that heard the case or the judge who wrote the opinion. Segment searching is especially useful when you are looking for:

  • Opinions written by a particular judge
  • Cases involving a particular party
  • Cases in which a particular attorney or firm appeared as counsel
  • Cases decided on, before, or after a particular date

Different types of documents have different segments. For example, a case will not have the same segments as a newspaper article.

To see a list of segments for the source selected in the search form you're using, click the plus sign next to the "Restrict Search Using Document Segments" option on the form.To select a segment for your search or to add a segment-restricted search to the terms you've already entered in the search box, follow these steps:

  1. If you're adding a segment restriction to terms in the search box, select a connector from the first dropdown list below the "Restrict Search Using Document Segments" option.
  2. From the second dropdown list, select a segment.
  3. In the text box next to the segment dropdown list, enter your segment-related search terms.
  4. Click the Add button to add your segment search criteria to your search.

You can repeat these steps as many times as you wish. When you're ready, complete the rest of the form and click the Search button.

You may also perform segment searching by typing your segment search terms directly in the search box. Enter the segment name, then type your search words enclosed in parentheses. Complete the rest of the form and click Search.

EXAMPLE : To find cases when you know the party names, enter:

name(griggs AND duke)

To find opinions written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, enter:


Use the AND connector to link a segment search to other search words or to other segments.

EXAMPLE : To find opinions by Justice O'Connor that discuss age discrimination, enter:

writtenby(o'connor) AND age W/5 discriminat!

To find opinions by Justice Posner that reversed an earlier opinion, enter:

writtenby(posner) AND disposition(reversed)

Segments that involve numbers, such as dates, are "arithmetically searchable." These segments use the arithmetic operators shown below:

  =  is equal to or is
  >  alt greater than or after
  <  bef less than or before

EXAMPLE : The following are examples of numeric segment restrictions.

  date = 1997   or  date is 1997
  date > december 31,1997   or  date aft december 31,1997
  date < 1/1/1997   or  date bef 1/1/1997
  number = 99-3512   or  number is 99-3512

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