Need to find case law that helps define a certain word or phrase? Luckily there’s a resource designed to help with just that! This week, in his special column, “Research Tips from an Old School Librarian,” research librarian John Shafer introduces us to this invaluable resource, how to use it, and how to access it.
One of the very useful classic research tools is a multi-volume set titled Words and Phrases, by Thomson West. First published in 1940, it has been the go-to source for judicial definitions of words and phrases, from multiple jurisdictions, drawing on cases from 1658 to the present. And these aren’t exclusively legal words or phrases, the set includes cases that provide judicial definitions of words such as “time” and phrases such as “happy camper“.
Even though the set Words and Phrases is still in print and kept up to date by West editors, today, you can also find it on Westlaw, included under Secondary Sources in the “Tools & Resources” panel (pictured below). Alternatively, you can type in “Words and Phrases” into the search bar to be taken directly to the content page. Even more directly, you can search words and phrases by using a special field search. For example, if you go to California State & Federal Cases and enter into the search box WP(“yellow-dog contract”), you will find a California Supreme Court case that you can cite that defines exactly what such a contract is. Any terms included in parenthesis after the letters “WP” will search for your terms in the words and phrases field.
While the Zief Law Library no longer has the print version of Words and Phrases available for browsing, you can still access this great resource and same information through Westlaw today. Try it out!