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Legal Research Process

What is Lexis?

Lexis is a licensed database with federal and state case law with extensive coverage.

When to Use Lexis?

You generally want to turn to Lexis for case law after you have already surveyed secondary sources on your topic and after using free online sources for case law such as Google Scholar and/or used print digests.

How to Use Lexis Advance to Find Case Law

There are four main ways to find case law:

  • by citation
  • natural language
  • terms and connectors
  • by subject

Terms and connectors: From the homepage, you can select filters by the main search box or "Browse" to reach a particular database. For a reminder of Lexis terms and connectors, click "Help" from the "More" dropdown menu in the upper right.

By subject: From the homepage, click "Browse." You can browse the lists of Sources and Topics and drill down from there or you can do a keyword search within the lists.

Lexis has no print equivalent for its subject arrangement of cases akin to West's digest system.

Finding tools within an individual case:

  • LexisNexis Headnotes: Headnotes are the major points of law from the case and are drawn from the exact language of a case. Each point of law from the case is preceded by one or multiple subject strings of how Lexis has categorized that point of law. When you click on the hyperlinks within the subject string, you will see a few options, including a link to "Get topic documents." "More Like This Headnote" option also exists.
  • Shepardize - Narrow by this Headnote: This will retrieve cases citing your case for the point of law in the headnote.
  • Topic Summaries: Any applicable Topic Summaries are displayed on the right and within the headnotes of a case as a briefcase icon. Clicking them will return a paragraph overview of the point of law, a list of seminal cases on that point, as well as links to related secondary sources.
  • Legal Issue Trail: If this feature is available, it will be located on right. To use it, click Activate Passages and then select the passage dealing with the issue you are researching. It will then list cases that cite to the case you are viewing as well as cases your case has cited for a specific legal issue or point of law. 

Strengths & Weaknesses of Lexis for Finding Case Law


Lexis is more comprehensive and sophisticated than free online resources.


This is an expensive resource. You should be aware of how your firm or employer is charged for its use. Using it cost effectively within that framework requires thought and training on how best to use the database. Lexis is newer than West, and thus does not have a print equivalent to West's digest system.