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Online Resources: Headnotes and Key Numbers

Learn about the library's online resources: what types of sources they contain, search strategies, and unique features.

Westlaw Headnotes and Key Numbers

Two of the most useful features of Westlaw are the Headnotes and Key Numbers.  They both provide links to other related cases and information--essentially they are shortcuts to searching.  Once you have found one case that addresses an issue you are interested in, you can use the (hyperlinked) headnotes and key numbers to find other cases that discuss the same issue(s). 

You can also search the Key Numbers directly if you are starting with a topic instead of starting from a case (shown in the video at the bottom of this page).

Headnotes, as the name implies, are notes about the points of law in a case that appear at the head (beginning) of a case record--BEFORE the actual text of the case itself.  When you are looking for information to use in a discussion and/or argument involving a case, be sure you know which section the text came from.

Headnotes are written by the editors at West--so they are not part of the published case opinions or case law.  West editors are attorneys, so the information is accurate and very useful--it just is not part of the official record of any case, law, regulation, etc.

Headnotes are numbered, with each number being a different point of law--major topic--the editors have identified as appearing in the case.  The numbers are in the order the issues appear in the case itself, not necessarily in order of importance.  Clicking on a headnotes number will take you to the portion of the case where the issue/topic listed in the headnote is discussed.

Key Numbers are a classification system of numbers assigned by West editors to various law topics.  The classification is hierarchical, with broader topics broken down into more specific sub-topics.

For example, a broad topic is Embezzlement and assigned the topic number 146.  (The numbers themselves are the alphabetical order of the topics.)  Underneath Embezzlement are subtopics such as "embezzlement by particular classes of person" and "admissibility of evidence."  Then more specific subtopics are the ones given the 'key' numbers.

Headnotes and Key Numbers work together because each headnote is assigned at least one specific key number.  Sometime there will be multiple headnotes with the same main topic or point of law, such as "Indictment and Information" (topic number 210) but as shown below, each headnote has a different subtopic key number assigned.

To find other cases most closely related to the one you have already found, click on on the desired key number.  The most specific key number(s) that cover the topic/issue will always be the ones on the bottom.


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