|Welcome to Reference From Coast to Coast: Sources and
Strategies, a new monthly column written by the KMZ librarians.
Headquartered in Chicago, Katten Muchin & Zavis has reference librarians in Washington
DC, Chicago and Los Angeles. There are eight professional librarians who are assisted by a
great support staff. The KMZ librarians field questions and participate in research in a
myriad of subject areas. This column will highlight some of our favorite reference sources
and research techniques in the hope that sharing information will help you in your
day to day jobs. We welcome all of your comments and questions, and would particularly
like feedback on sources and strategies that YOU use for research on our column
Please send comments
to the author, or firstname.lastname@example.org
|I love headnotes. Without them, my research would take twice
as long and result in far fewer relevant cases. Having the ability to search full-text
opinions online is great, but, without headnotes, important cases would be missed and I
would have to scan too many out-of-context cases.
West has done a fabulous job with its
topic and key number system, but this system is not the only one that indexes and digests
cases. In my library alone, I have several headnote or indexing systems, ranging from the
very small California State Bar Court Reporter to the very large and detailed BNA system.
For federal procedural research, the Federal Rules Service Digest is
invaluable. The breakdown of each rule is meticulously detailed and quickly locates cases
on point. Research for a case where a discovery sanction was proper in a particular
situation started with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 - Failure to make Discovery:
Sanctions. The Federal Rules Service Digest, Rule 37b.28, - "discretion of
court" - provided the focus needed to find relevant cases. If I already have a
relevant case, I will often find that case in the Federal Rules Service and check which
rule numbers have been assigned. I will then return to the digest to locate additional and
more current cases.
In California, state cases appear both in the Official Reports and in the West Reporters.
Although now both owned and published by West, there are still two different digests for
California cases. The McKinney California Digest of Official Reports includes topics that
do not even appear as a West topic, i.e., "Agency." McKinney offers
broader treatment on some select topics. For example, with an online and hard copy West
digest search, I found no case involving a a distinct power of an arbitrator. However, the
broader "Arbitration" topic in McKinney - "18 Arbitrators," while not
finding a case with the particular power for which I was searching, did reveal a case
involving the broad scope of an arbitrator's power.
However, I do use West headnotes on almost a daily basis. They are even more powerful than
other hard copy systems because they are online. My most common search is one restricting
search terms to the synopsis and digest fields, also know as "sy,di." I
like the flexibility of being able to combine a headnote, topic or key number with search
terms of my own choosing. This ability to create my own set of headnotes can only happen
online. For example, when looking for cases that deal with notice to cure a breach of
contract I searched "topic(contract)" and then added to the same paragraph, or
headnote, various versions and combinations of the words "notice" and
Lexis, an online publisher of cases, has recently entered the headnote field with
its new Search Advisor - a finding tool for legal materials based on a classification
system. These online headnotes should assist users in locating on-point legal authority.
But with no hard copy counterpart and limited coverage, it is too soon to evaluate this
In sum, just as you should not limit your research to only hard copy or only online, you
should not limit yourself to only one digest or headnote system. Finding the perfect case
can be difficult, but, with the range of resources available to legal researchers, it
doesn't have to be impossible.
Send any comments and suggestions to email@example.com