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Cost-Effective Electronic Legal Research: Segment or Field Searching

What is Field or Segment Searching?

All documents of the same type have a common structure, composed of the natural parts or divisions referred to as segments or fields. For example, cases contain name, date, court, opinion, and dissent segments, among others.  A search template or search command can be used to look for words within a certain part of the document.

Segment searching is especially useful when you are looking for:

  • Opinions written by a particular judge
  • Cases involving a specific party
  • Cases in which a particular attorney or firm appeared as counsel

Field searching using a search syntax has become less important, because the new systems (Westlaw, Lexis Advance, BLaw) often allow the use of pre and post filters instead.  The Advanced Search on Westlaw provides a template where one can search by certain fields. But  other times a desired result can only be achieved by using segment or field search syntax.   For example, a useful field search in Westlaw is synopsis digest, e.g. sy,di ("constructive possession").  This search finds the search terms in the synopsis and digest field, so it pulls cases that really concentrate on a particular issue, not just mention it in passing.

Lexis Advance Segment Searching


The table below has examples of segment searches using natural language and Boolean syntax.

To Find... Type This
Cases when you know the party names, using natural language name(griggs duke)
A legal news story when you know the headline, using natural language headline(michael jackson death)
Cases when you know the party names, using Boolean syntax name(griggs and duke)
Cases involving the right to counsel and heard by either Judge Anderson or Judge Markey, using Boolean syntax right to counsel and judges(anderson or markey)
Cases argued by Jensen for which Posner wrote the opinion, using Boolean syntax writtenby(posner) and attorney(jensen)


Westlaw Field Searching

Advanced Search - handy search templates for fields.  Useful especially when searching for forms because it gives you a Title search box.

Some useful Westlaw field searches to type into a search:

sy,di synopsis and digest
ti title of the document, or case name
co court
wp words and phrases. Finds definitions. Finds how a court defined a particular word or phrase.
ju judge
op opinion written by a certain judge
he headnote
at attorney