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Legal Research Tech Tool: Bestlaw

One of the toughest skills to master in legal research is cost-effective research techniques.  With your law school accounts, you have the luxury to play around and explore without any fiscal consequences, but when you or your employer are paying for your subscriptions to these platforms – and when your clients are being billed for your research time on these platforms – playtime is over.  There are many ways to gain cost-effective research skills: Vendor reps at your school likely offer cost-effective research training sessions in the Spring semester.  You might learn about free and low-cost alternatives for conducting legal research.  And once in a while, you come across new tools developed to help you stay cost-effective in these subscription platforms.  One such tool is Bestlaw.

Bestlaw is a browser add-on for Chrome (support for Firefox is coming soon too).  It is designed to help you research in WestlawNext more cost-effectively (support for Lexis Advance should also be coming soon).  Once you install Bestlaw on Chrome, you will see its tools appear whenever you run searches on WestlawNext.

First, when looking at your search results (not in Overview, but when you select a particular view of results, such as Cases), under each search result you’ll see a drop-down “Search…” menu.  This gives you the option to view this document in a free site, such as Casetext, Cornell LII, Court Listener, Findlaw, Google, Google Scholar, Ravel Law, or Wikipedia before viewing (and paying to view) it in WestlawNext.  So if you’re not sure whether this is a document that will be helpful for your research, viewing it in a free site first could save your firm a lot of money.


Next, once you decide to look at a document in WestlawNext, you’ll see a Bestlaw toolbar just below the document tabs at the top of the screen.


This toolbar gives you several options:

  • Display – Gives you the option for a readable view (clears away the extra content on the sides so that you have distraction-free reading for the document); the option to hide search term or page number highlighting; and gets you back to the top of the document with a click of the mouse
  • Tools – Gives you several ways to copy information from the document, including Bluebook citation,* title, or full text
  • Search – Will search for your document in Casetext, Cornell LII, Court Listener, Google, Google Scholar, Ravel Law, or Wikipedia (in a new tab)
  • Share – Allows you to share your document via email, Facebook, Twitter, or Google+
  • Help – Gives you quick access to the Bestlaw FAQs; allows you to report a bug, ask a question of the Bestlaw developers, or suggest a feature

If you find the Bestlaw toolbar distracting, you can hide it by clicking the up arrow next to the Help menu; this hides the toolbar behind an orange Bestlaw button, retrievable at any time by simply clicking the button.

Depending on the type of document you’re viewing, the Bestlaw features will differ slightly.  The features listed above are fairly standard and apply to cases.  Statutes have the added feature of collapsing all sections of the statute for easier browsing; under Display you have the option to expand all sections.


If you are in a secondary source, such as a law review article, you have the option under Display of showing an automatically-generated Table of Contents for the document.  While many law review articles come with these already, some do not, and many other secondary sources do not either, so this can be a handy tool for quick skimming to find the parts of the document that are most germane to your research.

Will Bestlaw absolve you of the need to learn cost-effective research strategies?  Certainly not.  You should still attend the platform-specific trainings offered by the vendors; you should still have a research plan before you dive in; and you should still consult a reference librarian if you’d like further tips.  But as an easy-to-use tool offering many powerful features and a design that allows you to use it alongside WestlawNext, a traditional legal research platform, Bestlaw is a great tool to have in your legal research arsenal.  (Did I mention it’s free?!?)


* Bestlaw claims it will give you perfect Bluebook citations; but it is always advisable to double-check the work yourself.

Opportunity for Students—32nd Annual Smith-Babcock-Williams Student Writing Competition

Attention students! The Planning and Law Division of the American Planning Association has announced the 32nd Annual Smith-Babcock-Williams Student Writing Competition. The Division will be accepting papers that are on the topics of planning, planning law, land use law, local government law, or environmental law. Submissions are due by June 5, 2015, and winners will be announced by August 28, 2015.

The winning paper will be submitted for publication in The Urban Lawyer, and the author will be awarded $2,000. The student who comes in second place will receive $400, and there will be an Honorable Mention prize of $100.

This is a great opportunity to gain some recognition for a seminar paper. Further information is available in the attachment. Good luck and happy writing!


Rules for the APA-PLD Student Writing Competition


Hello from your new Student Services Librarian!

My name is Kim Mattioli, and I just started the New Year off with a new position as the Student Services Librarian here in the law library. I’m likely familiar to many of you since I’ve been working part-time in the library for the past two and a half years in interlibrary loan and at both the circulation and reference desks. I’m thrilled to now be here on a full-time basis! You can find me in Room 105E in the Reference Office.

As you all know, every reference librarian is available to help students in any way possible, so I would like to tell you a little bit about what it means for me to be a librarian dedicated specifically to Student Services. As a starting point, I will be providing support to students who serve on the Indiana Law Journal, the Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, IP Theory, and the Indiana Journal of Law and Social Equality. Any student working on journal assignments is encouraged to come to my office with any questions, general or specific. In addition, I will be providing support to students who serve as faculty research assistants. This will include coordinating a training session for new or experienced research assistants, as well as helping with specific assignments.

While these are some of my preliminary responsibilities, I sincerely hope that this will only be a starting point. It is my goal to make all of you familiar and comfortable with the library. I hope to develop programming that will make all of you effective researchers, but in addition to that I want to serve as your liaison in the library. I want to know what programs and services you think would be helpful or fun, and to that end I invite anyone to stop by my office or email me with suggestions or requests. Let us know what you like about the library and what could be done differently.

I will be working hard to make sure that you are all getting the most out of our library. In the meantime, you will see me at the reference desk, on our new chat reference service, and on this blog from time to time. I’m looking forward to working with you!

What’s Your Research Resolution?

fireworks-borderWith the New Year speeding towards us, many of us will start out the year with a New Year’s Resolution.  Often these resolutions revolve around one’s health or one’s career, the purpose being to purge oneself of bad habits and poor choices.  Along those lines, I’d like to propose some research resolutions:

In this new year of legal research and scholarly pursuit, resolve:

  1. To conduct your research cost-effectively, through strategy and planning.
  2. To try out terms and connectors searching to refine your search results.
  3. To always run cases through a citator to make sure they’re still good law.
  4. To verify the authenticity of information you find online before relying on it in your research.
  5. To use secondary sources to begin and expand your research.
  6. To learn how to update statutes in print.  Because when the Internet goes down this summer, you’re the only clerk who knows how to use the print, and you’re firm’s up against a deadline, you’ll be the hero of the hour!  (Yes, this does happen!)
  7. To consider whether administrative law might govern your legal topic, in addition to statutory authority and case law.
  8. To interpret the meaning of a statute by compiling a legislative history to discern legislative intent.
  9. To explore legal resources outside of Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg Law that might benefit your research.
  10. To always come ask a reference librarian for help when you get stuck!

Happy holidays!  Have a great break!


Roving the Repository: Alumni News

i-witnessWhile roving the Law Library’s digital repository this month, I came across several law school publications for alumni.  In addition to current scholarship, the repository is growing its retrospective collection, and throughout our history, we have had several publications for alumni.  These can be an excellent resource for learning about the history of the school and how our student body has changed throughout our history.

First up, I-Witness, an alumni publication that ran from 1959-1968.  This 6- to 8-page newsletter primarily highlighted the goings-on at the law school, upcoming class reunions, and promoted membership in the law alumni association.  A couple of gems from this publication really help to put it in the context of American history and culture of the period, such as the article promoting the “Law Wives Club,” a social group formed for the wives of the primarily male student population, or the article discussing how the law school’s enrollment would be affected by the draft.


Next up, Bill of Particulars, an alumni publication that ran from 1968-2006.  With its long run, this publication saw us through more admissions issues with the draft, the expansion of services for veterans, changes in legal education, such as the rise of clinics and overhauls of the first year curriculum, and changes in the legal profession, such as the growing number of women in the field, the emergence of environmental law as a hot area of practice, and the rise of specialty courts, such as juvenile and family law courts.

Others include:

  • IU Law Update, an alumni publication produced in newspaper format that ran from 1991-1997.
  • Alumni Update, an alumni publication that ran from 1998-2001.
  • Indiana Law Update, an alumni publication in electronic format that ran from 2002-2009.
  • Indiana Law, a print alumni publication with a short run, 2007-2008.
  • Alumni News, a print publication that ran from 2007-2009.
  • Ergo, the publication we’re used to today, which has run 2010-present.

If you have a chance, check them out.  You never know what you might find!


In Thanks for Your Service – Resources and Benefits for Indiana Veterans

Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs LogoOn Veterans Day, as every day, we thank those who serve and who have served for your steadfast devotion to the fight for freedom and security, domestically and abroad. There are a wealth of resources available to returning service members, from education to healthcare, but finding these services and navigating the application and appeals process can be a challenge.  And while federal veterans benefits are most commonly known, states offer their own host of benefits and services to veterans.

The following is just a sampling of resources and services dedicated to Hoosier Vets:

  • Indiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs – This site provides a wealth of resources on benefits and services available to veterans and their family members.  You can find information here on both federal benefits and state benefits for Hoosier vets.
  • Veterans Home – An Indiana institution since 1896, Veterans’ Home offers a full range of housing services for veterans, from independent living to short-term rehabilitative care. They even offer a memory care unit for vets or their spouse living with Alzheimer’s or other dementia illnesses.
  • Veteran’s Business Enterprise Program
    • This program works to encourage the state of Indiana’s competitive contracts for the purchase of goods and services favor veteran-owned businesses.
  • Veteran Opportunity Partner
    • Perhaps you’re not a veteran, but you’d like to give back to those who’ve served. You may want to read up on becoming a Veteran Opportunity Partner, to provide services or discounts to vets throughout Indiana.
  • Finally, if you are interested legal assistance with your veterans’ benefits claim, here are some resources:

Found in the Stacks: Icons and Aliens

Icons and Aliens: Law, Aesthetics, and Environmental Change by John J. Costonis, University of Illinois, 1989. KF 5692 .C67 1989

Icons and Aliens explores the law of aesthetics. We might not normally think of aesthetics as having its own law, but this book is a reminder that we find legal questions in many places, some of them unexpected. The unusual title refers to the different ways that people can think of landmarks. The Golden Gate Bridge was initially much reviled for being an alien presence in the harbor. Now many years later it has become a celebrated icon of the city.   Costonis examines the legal implications of landmarks, how people react when they are built and when they are torn down.  As aesthetics change, so do our landscapes, and the legal system must respond when these changes cause conflict.  For a look at an unusual way law touches us, check this book out!

Have you found any particularly interesting books lately?  If so, let us know!

Happy Election Day!

Today is Election Day, so get out there and vote! If you are registered to vote in Indiana and would like more information, check out, which will let you look at your ballot, check out the candidates, and find your polling place. For even more information, the local Bloomington Herald-Times offers a page devoted to elections, on which you can find details on your specific district, read about individual races, get photos and bios of all the candidates, and watch videos of many of them.

Research Refresher: What Happened to Miss [Platform] Independent?

platform-ind2It happens to everyone – as you start to develop your research skills, you naturally start to develop preferences for one database over the rest. Everyone will have their own reasons – look and feel, functionality, content, free printing, reward points – but the outcome is always the same.  It’s only natural.

When we teach legal research, we are often confronted with one or both of these questions:

  1. What is your favorite platform?
  2. Is there really a point to researching across the platforms, or can I just stick to the one I like?

As to question number one, let’s be honest – it’s only natural to have a favored research platform. But the more diplomatic answer (and of course, I can only truly speak for myself) is that each platform has its unique strengths, so what platform I use for my research depends on what research task I am trying to accomplish.  But as I said, preferences are unique to the researcher, so my opinion about the platforms should in no way inform yours.

Question number two is a much more important question to answer. While it is true that everyone formulates preferences on where to do their research, while you are in law school, you will benefit yourself most by remaining well-versed in each platform. I say this for several reasons:

Be Prepared – Ordinarily, you will not know what platform you have access to through your summer or post-grad employer until you get there. Your mad Westlaw skills won’t be very handy if your employer only has Lexis.  Further, while Lexis and Bloomberg have started offering summer access to your personal accounts, many employers will prefer that you use their subscriptions, to better track research logged per client, for instance.

Compare and Contrast – While you’re in law school and have access to more than one research platform, it is simply a good exercise to compare research results across the systems. You may find that you retrieve better search results in one system over another; you may discover that one system offers more primary or secondary sources than another; and you will likely discover that each system offers unique tools that can benefit your research in different ways.

Plan for the Future – This goes along with the first reason; you may find yourself hanging out your shingle when you graduate, which will leave you the freedom to choose your research platform.  Your first thought might be that this is a no-brainer – you’ll go with the platform you’ve grown to prefer.  However, these research platforms vary greatly in price and packaging, and you could face the reality that your preferred platform is just too expensive.  Knowing your way around the other platforms will allow you to more easily make another, informed choice.

So try them all out. Will this stop you from having a preference?  No – like I said, that’s only natural.  In fact, if you have one database where you want to do all of your research, go right ahead. But consider following this up by conducting the same research on another platform.  This will not only keep your skills sharp in multiple systems, but it may just yield better research results in the end.

Know Your Court Rules

When it comes to case preparation, we typically think of preparatory aspects like the rules of criminal/civil procedure, evidence, prepping the client, and properly researching the case to make sure all of our statutes and regulations we’re relying on are current and our cases are Shepardized.  However, there’s another, subtler aspect to trial preparation to consider as well, violations of which lately seem to be rather news-worthy.  I’m talking about court rules.

You certainly don’t leave law school without learning about court rules, but compared to other aspects of the law, court rules don’t receive as much emphasis; but don’t be fooled – violating court rules can have serious consequences.  What’s more, court rules vary in subject from proper courtroom attire (don’t forget your socks!) to document formatting (watch those margins!).

Court rules vary by court, and can be found printed in statutory codes as well as on court websites.  For instance, the Indiana government website ( includes electronic access to court rules for the Indiana Supreme Court, Tax Court, and Appellate Court.  Rules at the trial court level vary by court as well, and can be found on their courts’ websites; fortunately the state government website includes a page for easy access to local court websites by county.

Because court rules cover such a vast array of topics and vary by court, no one is expected to have them memorized.  But you are expected to follow them, so it is important to know that they exist and where to find them.  If you have any questions about researching court rules, stop by the Law Library.  The Reference Librarians are happy to help!