the topic and key number system in the legal research universe
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West’s Instructional Aids Series. The Topic and Key Number System ® in the Legal Research Universe. West’s Instructional Aids Series. Contents. Introduction to the Doctrine of Precedent, the National Reporter System®, Headnotes, the Key Number System and the Key Number Digests

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contents

West’s Instructional Aids Series

Contents
  • Introduction to the Doctrine of Precedent, the National Reporter System®, Headnotes, the Key Number System and the Key Number Digests
  • The Topic and Key Number System
  • Key Number Digests
  • Finding and Using Relevant Key Numbers
  • KeySearch
introduction

Introduction

Back to Contents

the doctrine of precedent
Precedents are prior cases in the jurisdiction that are close in fact or legal principles to the case in consideration.

The doctrine of precedent dictates that decisions reached in previous cases in the jurisdiction dealing with the same or similar issues should be followed, unless there is a good reason to deviate.

Introduction

The Doctrine of Precedent
the doctrine of precedent1
The doctrine of precedent is founded on a sense of fairness and the belief that decisions should be consistent and not arbitrary so that the legal consequence of conduct can be predicted.

This doctrine explains the attorney’s need for access to prior cases in the jurisdiction dealing with the same or similar issues.

Introduction

The Doctrine of Precedent
national reporter system headnotes the key number system and the key number digests
The National Reporter System is the name given to the entire group of publications that report both state and federal cases decided throughout the country. Some reporters cover specialty topics, such as bankruptcy.

Introduction

National Reporter System, Headnotes, the Key Number System and the Key Number Digests
headnotes in a case
Headnotes appear before the text of every case in the National Reporter System.

A headnote is a paragraph summary of a single point of law discussed in the case.

Headnotes appear in the order the points of law are discussed in the case.

Introduction

Headnotes in a Case

Headnote 2

Headnote 1

headnotes digest paragraphs

Introduction

Headnotes (Digest Paragraphs)
  • Headnotes are prepared by West attorney-editors using
    • consistent and current legal terminologyinstead of ambiguous, regional or outdated words
    • descriptive termsinstead of proper names
  • Language of Opinion Language of Headnote

- Mr. Brown or plaintiff - landlord

- Tylenol or Bufferin - aspirin

- tipsy or inebriated - intoxicated

The headnotes help you retrieve many online cases that you would otherwise miss.

headnote and key number

Introduction

Headnote and Key Number

The point of law discussed in each headnote is assigned to at least one West topic number and key number.

west s key number digests
The headnotes from every reported case in the National Reporter System are organized by topic and key number in West’s Key Number Digests. Headnotes become digest paragraphs.

There are

federal, state, and regional digests

special-subject digests

digests that cover specific periods of time

Introduction

West’s Key Number Digests
west s key number digests1
Using an on-point key number, you can find similar headnotes from other cases in any National Reporter System publication.

Each headnote in a digest cites, and on Westlaw® links, to the case in which the headnote appears.

Introduction

West’s Key Number Digests
slide12

5.

4.

1.

4

Digests

National Reporter System

Constitutional Law

3.

2.

3

Headnotes

Topic and Key Number System

1. Cases are printed in the National Reporter System reporters.

2. Each point of law discussed in a case is summarized in a headnote.

3. The point of law in each headnote is assigned a key number(s).

4. Digests organize all headnotes (digest paragraphs) by key number.

5. The key number in a digest is used to find other relevant cases.

question
Question

West’s Key Number System integrates

  • The National Reporter System
  • The Key Number Digests
  • Headnotes that precede each National Reporter System case
  • All of the above
question1
Question

West’s Key Number System integrates

  • The National Reporter System
  • The Key Number Digests
  • Headnotes that precede each National Reporter System case
  • All of the above
headnotes and the topic and key number system

The Topic and Key Number System

Headnotes and the Topic and Key Number System
  • When West receives an opinion from the court, a West attorney-editor identifies the points of law discussed in the case.
  • Each point of law is summarized in a headnote.
  • After carefully analyzing the point of law that the headnote discusses, the West attorney-editor assigns the headnote to at least one key number in the West Topic and Key Number System.
slide17

The Topic and Key Number System

Headnote Number (2)

Topic Number (92)

Key Number 90.1(1.2)

Headnote

This headnote summarizes the second point of law discussed in this case on Westlaw. The headnote is assigned to key number 90.1(1.2) under Topic 92 (Constitutional Law).

the west topic and key number system

The Topic and Key Number System

The West Topic and Key Number System
  • is an extensive outline of the entire body of case law in this country.
  • is an indexto the entire National Reporter System, helping you more easily locate cases with similar legal issues in any jurisdiction.
  • is a classification system with at least one topic and key number assigned to each point of law.
the west topic and key number system1

The Topic and Key Number System

The West Topic and Key Number System
  • divides the law into approximately 400 broad digest topics.
  • breaks down each topic into subheadings
  • contains approximately 100,000 specific key numbers
topics
The topic are arranged alphabetically and numbered between 1 and 450.

Each topic addresses a broad legal issue.

Some topics have been added after the original 414 topics were assigned numbers.

See, 48A Automobiles

See, 48B Aviation

Other topics have been eliminated or renamed (e.g., West attorney-editors no longer use topic 3).

The Topic and Key Number System

Topics
topics and key numbers

The Topic and Key Number System

Topics and Key Numbers

92 Constitutional Law(Topic)

92V Personal, Civil and Political Rights(Subheading)

92k90 Freedom of Speech and of the Press

92k90.1 Particular Expressions and Limitations

92k90.1(1.2) k. Election Regulations

(Specific Key Number)

  • Each topic is broken down into subheadings.
  • There can be as many as eight levels in the topic and key number hierarchy.
  • This process continues until further breakdown of a legal issue is unproductive and a specific key number is assigned. See,92k90.1(1.2), above.
topics subheadings and key numbers
This is a breakdown of subheading 90.1 (Particular expressions and limitations) under the Constitutional Law topic and subheading V. (Personal, Civil and Political Rights) in the print version of the digest.

92k90.1(1.2) is the specific key number dealing with Election regulations.

The Topic and Key Number System

Topics, Subheadings, and Key Numbers
currentness of topics

The Topic and Key Number System

Currentness of Topics

Topics or portions of topics are added, renamed, expanded, contracted, merged, or eliminated as law, society, and political sensitivity dictate.

  • Insurance topic was reorganized in 1998; Negligence topic was reorganized in 1999
  • RICO topic was added in 1990; Sentencing topic was added in 2000
  • Drunkards topicbecame inactive in 1978 and all new cases were classified under a new topic, Chemical Dependents. The new topic also contains some issues that were previously categorized under Drugs and Narcotics
  • Insane Persons topic was renamed Mental Health
currentness of key numbers

The Topic and Key Number System

Currentness of Key Numbers

Key numbers are added, renumbered, or transferred to other topics as law, society, and political sensitivity dictate.

  • What was once a specific key number may be expanded over time to provide deeper analysis of a growing area of the law.
  • Translation tables in print volumes aid in moving between the old and new classifications.
  • On Westlaw, a “Formerly” line is added to key numbers that have changed so you can search by old or new key number. (See below.)
slide25

The Topic and Key Number System

Think of the topic and key number as an address:

  • Each street in the city represents a digest topic.
  • There are many houses on each street and each house has its own number.
  • In order to find a particular house, you must know both the street name (topic) and the house number (key number).
question2
Question

The West Topic and Key Number System

  • Divides the law into approximately 400 broad legal topics
  • Divides the law into approximately 100,000 specific key numbers
  • Is an index to every case in the National Reporter System
  • All of the above
question3
Question

The West Topic and Key Number System

  • Divides the law into approximately 400 broad legal topics
  • Divides the law into approximately 100,000 specific key numbers
  • Is an index to every case in the National Reporter System
  • All of the above
key number digests

Key Number Digests

Back to Contents

key numbers and key number digests

Digests

Key Numbers and Key Number Digests
  • West’s Key Number Digests are the research link between Key Numbers and the National Reporter System cases.
  • The digests contain the headnotes (digest paragraphs) and their corresponding topic and key numbers from every set of cases in the National Reporter System.
  • The headnotes (digest paragraphs) are organized first alphabetically by topic and then numerically by key number.
key number digests1

Digests

Key Number Digests

Digest sets include:

  • State digests
  • Regional digests
  • Federal Practice Digest
  • Specialty subjects, such as Bankruptcy, Military Justice, Federal Claims, and Education Law digests
  • Decennial digests, which contain all headnotes from cases for each 10-year period beginning with 1897
  • The Century Digest, which contains headnotes from cases from 1658 to 1896
west s key number digests2
Each digest series spans many volumes and is organized first alphabetically by topic then numerically by key number.

Digests

West’s Key Number Digests
slide32
This is a page from the Minnesota Digest

Listed are all the headnotes (digest paragraphs) from Minnesota cases that discuss the points of law assigned to specific key numbers 8, 2, 9, and 12 under the topic of Abatement and Revival.

Digests

topic lists in print digests

Finding Relevant Key Numbers in Print

Topic Lists in Print Digests

Browsing the Topic Hierarchy

  • Use the alphabetical Digest Topics list at the beginning of each print digest volume as a table of contents.
  • Check the key numbers under the topics that seem most relevant.
topic analysis in print digests

Finding Relevant Key Numbers in Print

Topic Analysis in Print Digests

Browsing the Topic Hierarchy

Broad Analysis

Detailed Analysis

Each topic in a digest set has an Analysis section, providing both broad and detailed outlines of the topic.

subjects included subjects excluded

Finding Relevant Key Numbers in Print

Subjects Included, Subjects Excluded

Browsing the Topic Hierarchy

  • Many legal topics overlap in subject content.
  • At the beginning of every new topic in the print digest are scope notes that explain which subjects are included under that topic and which are excluded.
  • The Subjects Excluded list directs you to the digest topic under which those subjects are covered.
  • These lists also appear in the Scope information on Westlaw.
west s analysis of american law

Finding Relevant Key Numbers in Print

West’s Analysis of American Law

Browsing the Topic Hierarchy

West’s Analysis of American Law lists all the topics and the specific key numbers with the title given to each key number.

Constitutional Law TOPIC NO. 92

90.1– Particular Expressions and Limitations

(1.2) Election Regulations

  • This publication also contains Subjects

Included and Subjects Excluded

sections for each topic.

descriptive word index

Finding Relevant Key Numbers in Print

Descriptive Word Index
  • When classifying points of law and assigning to key numbers, West attorney-editors choose words that describe the important facts and legal issues
  • These fact and issue words are arranged alphabetically in the Descriptive Word Index volumes of the digest.
  • The Descriptive Word Index refers you to relevant topic and key numbers.
slide39

Finding Relevant Key Numbers in Print

Descriptive Word Index

  • Ask, “What words describe the pertinent facts of the case or legal question involved?”
  • Most descriptive words fall into one of five categories of elements common to every case:
    • Parties or facts
    • Places and things
    • Issue or basis of action
    • Defenses
    • Relief sought
descriptive word index1

Finding Relevant Key Numbers in Print

Descriptive Word Index
  • Example: John Landlord failed to replace a light bulb in the hallway of one of his apartment buildings. Jane Tenant failed to see a step and fell down a flight of stairs. She is suing John for damages.
  • You might start by checking in the index under landlord, tenant, apartment, common area, or premise liability. At least one of these entries will probably lead you to key numbers assigned to headnotes in cases that discuss the same or similar issues.
secondary sources library references in print and on westlaw

Finding Relevant Key Numbers in Print and on Westlaw

Secondary Sources’ Library References in Print and on Westlaw

Reference to relevant constitutional

key numbers in an ALR®

(American Law Reports)

article on Westlaw.

Reference to a constitutional

law key number for an Am Jur® 2d (American Jurisprudence) section on Westlaw.

using a known key number in print digests

Using a Known Key Number in Print

Using a Known Key Number in Print Digests
  • Go to a print digest covering the appropriate jurisdiction and find the volume containing the topic.
  • The digest paragraphs are arranged in numerical order under the topic.
  • All headnotes (digest paragraphs) from all cases discussing the point of law assigned to that key number are listed along with citations to the originating cases.
using a known key number in a westlaw search

Using a Known Key Number on Westlaw

Using a Known Key Number in a Westlaw Search

If you know the key number before you sign on to Westlaw

  • chose either a case law or a headnote (digest) database,
  • enter the key number as your Terms and Connectors query:

92k90.1(1.2)

  • The “k” makes the term unique. You will retrieve only documents containing the key number.
  • You can require that certain words be in the same paragraph as the key number to customize your search:

92k90.1(1.2) /p speech

topic list on westlaw
Choose Key Numbers & Digest from the drop-down list on the toolbar.

Finding Key Numbers on Westlaw

Topic List on Westlaw

Browsing the topic hierarchy

Key Number & Digest

Constitutional Law

  • Scroll down the list of
  • topics until you find one
  • you want to explore.
slide45
Click the plus (+) symbols to expand the subheadings. Expand subheading folders if necessary.

Finding Key Numbers on Westlaw

Browsing the topic hierarchy

2.

1.

2.

  • When you find a relevant
  • key number: (1) type it in the
  • text box and click GOor,
  • (2) check the box beside it and clickSearch.

Search

92k91.1(1.2)

using the topic list on westlaw to perform a key number search
You can run the key number search in the headnote database of your choice.

Finding Key Numbers on Westlaw

Using the Topic List on Westlaw to Perform a Key Number Search

Databases

  • You can restrict your search
  • by date or add terms for a
  • customized result.

Add Terms

Date

using a key number from a case on westlaw to retrieve other cases

Using a Found Key Number on Westlaw

Using a Key Number from a Case on Westlaw to Retrieve Other Cases
  • A word search on Westlaw retrieves a relevant case with an on-point headnote.
  • You can use the key number(s) assigned to this headnote to retrieve other cases discussing the same point of law.
  • This is the most common way of finding relevant cases using key numbers.
search on westlaw

Finding Key Numbers on Westlaw

Search on Westlaw
  • In case law databases, key numbers and headnotes appear before the text of the case in the order the legal issues are discussed in the case, just as in the print reporters.
  • In the headnote (digest) databases, the key numbers and headnotes are organized by topic, then by key number, just as in the print digests.
search on westlaw1

Finding Key Numbers on Westlaw

Search on Westlaw
  • If you know the appropriate topic number but do not know the key number, try the following search in either a case law or headnote database:

to(92) /p campaign /p contribut!

  • The topic (to) field is the portion of the digest field that contains the topic numbers and names and key numbers and names.
search on westlaw2

Finding Key Numbers on Westlaw

Search on Westlaw

If you don’t know either the topic or the key number

  • in a headnote database (NY-HN, ALLCASES-HN), enter a Terms and Connectors query or a digest field search:

campaign! /p contribut! /p speech

  • in a case law database (NY-CS, ALLCASES), restrict your query to the digest field (di):

di(campaign /p contribut! /p speech)

Start out by keeping all terms in the same paragraph.

slide51

Finding Key Numbers on Westlaw

… yields 31 cases in the CTA (U.S. Court of Appeals) database. This headnote is assigned to key number 92k90.1(1.2).

This key number is under the Constitutional Law topic, but the results might also include key numbers under Elections, Civil Rights, and other topics.

The query di(campaign/s contrib! /s speech)…

slide52
If the headnote assigned to 92k90.1(1.2) is relevant to your issue, you can easily retrieve similar cases, even if they don’t contain the terms in your original search.

Using a Found Key Number on Westlaw

Most Cited Cases

Click Most Cited Cases link to create a Custom Digest.

Databases

Select a database.

ClickSearch.

Search

slide53
A Custom Digest contains digest paragraphs assigned to that key number from all cases in that jurisdiction.

Each headnote links to its corresponding case.

You have created a CustomDigest of all headnotes assigned to 92k90.1(1.2) in the in the Eighth Circuit.

Using a Found Key Number on Westlaw

Custom Digest

the west topic and key number system2
The West Topic and Key Number System
  • Allows you to quickly find all (including the most current) cases that discuss a legal issue
  • Allows you to quickly determine the merits of your clients’ cases based on how prior cases dealing with the same issue have been decided
  • Allows you to move among reporters, digests, the ALR and AmJur publications and statutes using cross-referenced relevant key numbers

The Key Number System is the index to American common- law issues.

question4
Question

If you have found a relevant key number, you can retrieve cases that have discussed the same or similar issues by

  • Finding that key number in a digest
  • Searching for the key number in a headnote (digest) database on Westlaw
  • Searching for the key number in a case law database on Westlaw
  • All of the above
question5
Question

If you have found a relevant key number, you can retrieve cases that have discussed the same or similar issues by

  • Finding that key number in a digests
  • Searching for the key number in a headnote (digest) database on Westlaw
  • Searching for the key number in a case law database on Westlaw
  • All of the above
keysearch

KeySearch

Back to Contents

keysearch1

KeySearch

KeySearch

KeySearch

  • is a research tool powered by the respected and dependable West Key Number System
  • identifies key numbers and terms most relevant to your legal issue
  • integrates related key numbers from different topics into one search
  • creates effective queries for you in the appropriate database(s)
  • uses intuitive language and organization, making it easy to navigate
keysearch in westlaw com

KeySearch

KeySearchin westlaw.com

Start your research in KeySearch when:

  • you are unfamiliar with an area of the law
  • you are unfamiliar with the West Key Number System
  • you need to retrieve unreported cases or secondary- source documents as well as reported cases.
slide60

KeySearch

KeySearch

  • KeySearch uses the dependable and respected power of the Key Number System and the expertise of West’s attorney-editors to retrieve relevant documents.
  • KeySearch can be accessed from anywhere in westlaw.com by clicking the link on the toolbar.
an employment law issue

KeySearch

An Employment Law Issue

Sue had been employed by the Busy Bee Corporation for

several years. Busy Bee is a 20-person, family-run business

and Sue had always had smooth relationships with family

members and good job reviews. Last year, Sue began

living with Roger. The Busy Bee owners did not say

anything directly to Sue, but she knew her living

arrangements upset the very conservative family. Relations

with family members soured and soon her job reviews

expressed dissatisfaction with her work. Sue was fired for

unsatisfactory performance.

Can Sue claim discrimination based on her status as an

unmarried person?

slide62

KeySearch

  • West attorney-editors have created logical topics and subtopics.
  • Topics are arranged alphabetically for easy scanning.
  • Links to popular subtopics are listed below each main topic.

Employment Law

Let’s choose Employment Law to find an answer to Sue’s legal dilemma.

slide63

KeySearch

  • A folder indicates that there are subtopics.
  • A search icon indicates there are no subtopics. Clicking on a search icon will retrieve the search page.
  • Discrimination has subtopics.

Discrimination

slide64

KeySearch

Path

Marital or Familial Status Discrimination

  • Marital or Familial Status Discrimination is the exact
  • subtopic we’re looking for. We can click the search icon
  • to begin our search.
  • Notice that the KeySearch path is displayed at the top of the
  • page so it is easy to keep track of how we got to this subtopic.
slide65

KeySearch

KeySearch gives us the option of retrieving reported or

unreported cases, encyclopedias, treatises, law reviews

and journals, and many other secondary sources.

slide66

KeySearch

All State Cases

Key Numbers

Query Editor

  • We’ll select Cases with West headnotes (reported cases).
  • Then we’ll select All State Casesfor the database.
  • Open the Query Editor to see which topic and key
  • numbers are applicable to this Employment law issue.
slide67

KeySearch

  • We can add search terms to the end of the query to further customize the search. Here we’ve added:

/p single unmarried “not married” “living in sin”

  • The last step is to click Search.

Search

slide68

KeySearch

  • That’s it. In just a few clicks we have retrieved 22 on-point documents in the All State Cases database.
  • Read the headnotes from these cases to see how successful our KeySearch search was.
slide69

KeySearch

Terms

Use the Term arrows to move to the highlighted search terms

to quickly identify the most relevant portions of these

documents.

slide70

KeySearch

Scan

  • What if you aren’t sure where to begin looking in the KeySearch hierarchy?
  • Just type the essential terms in the Scan text box and click GOand and a list of the topics and subtopics that contain your terms is displayed.
slide71

KeySearch

Here is the list that is displayed when we enter marital familial

in the Scan text box. The KeySearch path we chose by

pointing and clicking is included in results above.

slide72

KeySearch

  • Efficient –KeySearch creates expert queries for you. There’s no need for you to locate the correct topic and key numbers or determine which terms to include in your query.
  • Easy to use – The interface is organized, logical and easy to navigate.
  • Flexible – You can edit KeySearch queries to fit your fact pattern.
  • Comprehensive – KeySearchincludes approximately 10,000 legal issues and retrieves results from reported and unreported cases as well as analytical law.
  • Reliable – KeySearch is powered by the West Key Number System, so you know your results can be trusted. Queries are created by experts in legal topics and query formulation.
question6
Question

KeySearch

  • Builds on the Key Number System
  • Adds relevant words so unreported cases and secondary sources can be retrieved
  • Allows you to customize the automatic query
  • All of the above
question7
Question

KeySearch

  • Builds on the Key Number System
  • Adds relevant words so non-reported cases and secondary sources can be retrieved
  • Allows the automatic query to be customized
  • All of the above
slide75
The National Reporter System, the West editorial enhancements, the West Key Number System, and West Key Number Digests are an integrated research system that guides you to prior cases in any state or federal jurisdiction that discussed similar facts or points of law.
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