Have you ever been frustrated by too much information when searching legal journals on Westlaw and Lexis? Full-text searching is wonderful, but at times it can be a bit overwhelming. Especially when you are searching for a general concept or one that uses a commonly used phrase or term (like “due process”). One way to remedy this is by using a legal periodical index like LegalTrac.

A legal periodical index organizes articles by subject, meaning you don’t have to search for a key phrase or two amongst millions. With an index someone has looked through an article and determined its topic before you even get there. This helps eliminate more irrelevant hits that just mention your terms in passing.

You can find a link to LegalTrac on the Quick Links portion of the Law Library webpage. When you arrive at LegalTrac you will have the option to search or browse by subject. If we search for a subject like “right to bear arms” we will be given the main subject along with a list of subdivisions.

A full-text search for “right to bear arms” in Westlaw or Lexis returns about 1700 results, many of which will only mention “right to bear arms” in passing. Searching by subject can make your research much more manageable. When you select something like “Analysis” in LegalTrac you will be shown the citations for those 29 results. While LegalTrac does not have full text for many of the articles it references, the Law Library has a product that allows you to link from LegalTrac into one of our full text databases (usually HeinOnline) when you select the “Locate full text” link.

LegalTrac indexes “approximately 875 titles including major law review, legal newspapers, bar association journals and international legal journals” according to its website. These indexed journals cover from 1980 to the present.

In my research I often start with LegalTrac, especially if I’m looking for a topic I think will give me a lot of hits in Westlaw or Lexis. After seeing what’s in LegalTrac (and Wilson’s Index to Legal Periodicals, another legal periodical index) I’ll turn to Westlaw or Lexis to complete my research. If I have a fairly unique term or topic I turn to Westlaw or Lexis first, but will always cycle around to LegalTrac at some point during my research.

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