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LRAC Legal Research Class Site

Different Finding Methods

There are a VARIETY of different ways to locate information in sophisticated commercial online systems such as Westlaw and Lexis. 

Arizona Statutes Example

Options for locating an Arizona statute about executing pregnant prisoners:

  1. Find the statute by navigating through the subject index
  2. Find the statute by navigating through the table of contents
  3. Find the statute by searching (natural language or terms and connectors)

Subject Indexes

A statutory subject index is a list of subjects contained within a statutory code with links (or page numbers in print) to the relevant statutes.

You have probably noticed that there are many different words to express the same concept.

Non-Legal Examples

  • pet that meows = cat, feline, kitten
  • thing you drink out of = cup, glass, mug, tumbler, drinking vessel

Legal Examples

  • the state executing someone as punishment for a crime = death penalty, capital punishment, execution, death sentence
  • killing someone illegally = murder, homicide, malice murder, felony murder
  • a court order ordering someone not to do something = restraining order, order of protection, injunction, injunctive relief

For legal research, indexes are useful because legal concepts are often expressed using different terms. Often, you don't know what terminology is used in a statute in a specific state. Also, when you look under the right term, you will find all the statutes on a particular topic listed in one place.


You have a pregnant client who is on death row. You think it is probably illegal in Arizona to execute a woman while pregnant so you decide to search the Arizona Revised Statutes on Westlaw.

You know that the concept of the state executing someone as punishment for a crime can be expressed in multiple ways: death penaltycapital punishment, death sentence, and execution.

You have a lot of choices to find the statute, but often an efficient way is to look in an index. On Westlaw Edge, you could look in the index for the Arizona Statutes & Court Rules database. (Note: To find the index, go to the database and look on the top right of the screen.)

Table of Contents

table of contents lists the parts of a book or database, organized in the order in which the parts appear. The depth of detail in a table of contents generally depends on the length of the source.


The Arizona Revised Statutes has a table of contents, both in the database and in print. On Westlaw, if you go to the Arizona Statutes and Court Rules database, you will see the table of contents on the initial screen. 

To find the statutory sections about executing prisoners, you could go to Title 13 - Criminal Code and click through the different chapters until you find something relevant. 

When you find a relevant statute, you always want to look around the table of contents for related sections so you will not miss any other relevant sections.

Natural Language Searching

You can also search within a database by running a search.

There are two ways to search on sophisticated legal research systems such as Westlaw and Lexis+ – natural language searching and terms and connectors searching.

To run a natural language search, you just type in a few keywords just like you would in Google.