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Levin College of Law

Conducting Legal Research

Resources and tips for conducting legal research .

What is a Finding Aid?

A finding aid is a tool that helps you locate relevant material. Finding aids include indexes, tables of contents, tables of cases, and tables of laws.

Each publication will have its own unique finding aid, tailored to that source. For instance, Chemerinsky’s Constitutional Law: Principles and Policies hornbook includes a table of contents, a table of cases, and an index. Finding aids will vary by publication.

The boxes below provide information about Indexes, Tables of Contents, and Tables of Cases & Tables of Laws.


Index Characteristics:

  • Alphabetical arrangement of information, often organized by subjects or names.
  • Indicates where to locate information within the main text of the publication.
  • Usually includes controlled vocabulary to assist in determining terms of art used by the publication. It directs you to the phrasing using by the publication.
    • Example: Zone of interest test. See Standing.

Index Locations:

  • In a single volume, usually at the back of the publication. In a multi-volume set, usually in the last volume.
  • Some databases also include indexes:
    • In Westlaw, finding aids often appear on the right side of the screen.
    • In BNA/Bloomberg, the index is typically at the bottom right or left corners of the page.

How to use an Index:

  • Look through the index for the keywords or topics that you included in your research plan; consult a thesaurus for synonyms if you don’t have any luck.
  • When you find a relevant subject, you will be given either the location of the subject in the publication; or a cross-reference to another portion of the index (e.g., if you look up “children,” you may find “See Infants, this index.” You then will look up Infants in the index.).
  • Read the sections indicated.
  • If you are using an index in a database like Westlaw, you can often browse or search the index. The online indexes function similarly to the print: locate a relevant topic, find a citation to a place in the book or a cross-reference, then click the link.

Tables of Contents

Table of Contents Characteristics:

  • Chronological list of all of the major sections of a publication, in the order in which they are printed, which indicates the location of the sections in the publication.
  • A publication may include a brief overall table of contents and a more detailed table of contents.

Table of Contents Locations:

  • Generally at the beginning of a publication.
  • Large multivolume publications may have tables of contents in one or more of the following places: in the front of the first volume, in the front of each volume, and/or in the front of each major section or topic.
  • Some databases include tables of contents. The locations vary by database:
    • Lexis: view the table of contents through the browse sources function.
    • Westlaw: typically on the top right side of the screen when you click on a publication, e.g., USCA.
    • Both Lexis and Westlaw have a table of contents for statutes and treatises. The table of contents will be an option at the top of the screen.

How to use a Table of Contents:

  • Browse through the table of contents to locate the subject that you are researching. You may be able to find related topics this way, too.
  • Example: when researching a statute, use the table of contents to look at surrounding statutes, which are often related to your initial statute.
  • In Westlaw and Lexis, search just a source’s Table of Contents to find relevant sections.

Tables of Cases and Tables of Laws

Table of Cases & Table of Laws Characteristics:

  • Alphabetical list of judicial opinions; or numerical or alphabetical list of statutes or regulations, discussed within the publication.
  • Indicates where the discussion of the primary law takes place within the publication.
  • Often lists a case by both plaintiff and defendant.  
  • Sometimes alternatively arranged by jurisdiction, date, or topic.
  • Good sources for major cases, statutes, or regulations in a particular area of law.

Table of Cases & Table of Laws Locations:

  • If included, generally at the end of the publication.
  • Cases in Westlaw and Lexis will sometimes have a Table of Cases/Table of Authorities.

How to use a Table of Cases or Table of Laws:

  • Look up a case name by plaintiff or defendant.
  • Look up a statute or regulation by citation or Title number.
  • For tables arranged by jurisdiction, date, or topic, locate the jurisdiction, date, or topic relevant to your issue; skim the publication’s discussion of those primary sources.