FINDING CASES ON VERSA
Clicking on “Translated Opinions” presents a list of all the cases in database sorted alphabetically by the name of the first party. You can also sort the cases by the date decided or by relevance (this last option is only meaningful when sorting the results of a search). To read an abstract and see the opinions for a given case, simply click on the case name. To see other cases about the same topic, click on the particular topic of interest below the case name.
There are three ways to find specific cases: browsing, full-text searches, and searching by party name.
Browsing involves simply looking at the listed case names and topics to see what is of interest. This is of course quite inefficient if one were to browse the whole database, i.e., the list that appears if you click on “Translated Opinions” at the top of the page. However, it can be effective if one first narrows the decisions listed to those of potential interest (on which more below).
To search within the full text of the opinions included on Versa, type a search request in the white box that appears below “Search Translated Opinions” and hit Enter or click on the magnifying glass icon. To perform a new search, just repeat the process with different terms. Doing so will again search within the entire database, not within the results of the first search.
To search by the name of a party, chose to sort by relevance (click the "sort by" box at the top of the list of cases), type the name of a party or parties in the search field, and run the search. The case(s) involving the searched for party will be at the top of the list. (You can also run the search first, then sort the results by relevance.) Note that in cases with multiple parties, only the two lead parties, i.e. the two on either side of the “v.” as the case is listed, will automatically jump to the top when the results are sorted by relevance.
The “Refine Search” pane allows you to narrow the opinions that are in play for any of these methods, as discussed immediately below.
Narrowing the opinions displayed and searched
Clicking on one or more of the entries in the “refine search” pane does three things.
- First, it lists only the cases that satisfy selected criteria.
- Second, it edits out all items in the refine search pane itself that are inapplicable to the cases now displayed. For example, if you click on “Administrative Law”, then the only Topics that will now display are those (including but not limited to Administrative Law) that are found in the Administrative Law cases; the only Justices whose names appear are those who participated in the Administrative Law cases; etc. So, after clicking on Administrative Law, Constitutional Law remains on the list, though with a smaller number in parentheses attached to it. This is because that number indicates the number of cases that have both Ad Law and Con Law as topics. Click on Constitutional Law, and the overall number of cases shown will match that parenthetical number, because now you are looking at just cases with both Administrative Law and Constitutional Law as topics.
- Third, it narrows the database for purposes of full text searches. That is, once one has clicked on anything in the Refine Search pane, a search using the search field will look only within the subset of cases now displayed.
These restrictions allow you to narrow the opinions displayed and searched according to topic, participating Justice(s), date, decision type (original or appellate), or document type (full opinion, abstract, or summary). Thus, if you want to search only within cases decided between 1992 and 1998 in which Justice Barak participated, you would enter the relevant years under “Year” and click “Apply” and then click on Justice Barak’s name in the list of Justices. Doing so reduces the opinions displayed to only those that meet those criteria (there are 15 or so such cases), and a search within the search box will now look only within those cases.
To undo all restrictions, returning to the full database, click on “reset” at the top of the Refine Search pane or on “Translated Opinions” near the top of the screen.
To undo specific restrictions, click on the “X” next to the item that had been selected; to undo a date restriction only change both the “from” and “to” dates to “any” and click on “apply.”
As noted in the second bullet point above, clicking on an item in the Refine Search pane causes many of the other items to disappear. That is because at any given time the pane only displays Topics, Justices, etc. that are relevant to the cases then listed. For example, there are 30 topics shown when the full database is displayed. If you limit the database to, say, cases in which President Beinisch participated, about 75 cases will be shown on the main screen and only 19 topics will be displayed in the refine search pane. None of the listed cases, the ones in which President Beinisch participated, involve the other 11 topics, so they no longer show up.
Refinements are cumulative until they are removed or the reset button is clicked. So, clicking on Beinisch brings the number of displayed cases down below 100. If you then want to look only at administrative law cases from that group, clicking on “Administrative Law” will further reduce the displayed cases. And so on.
The “Refine Search” pane can be used as a way to narrow the opinions within which you perform a full-text search. But it can also be used as a search tool in itself, producing a manageable set of opinions fitting certain criteria for browsing without doing a full-text search at all.
All the opinions in the database are assigned topics. Altogether there are 30 topics; these are listed in the “Refine Search” pane. Next to each topic is a parenthetical number which indicates how many of the cases on display (by default, the full database) correspond to that topic. Most of the topics also have subtopics; these are hidden until one clicks on the topic.
Clicking on an individual topic does two things. First, it reveals the subtopics and the number of cases that fall under each. Second, it limits the listed cases, and thus the cases within which a search takes place, to only those cases that involve that topic. Clicking on a subtopic will further narrow the displayed cases (and, again, the cases within which a search will take place).
Bear in mind that sometimes cases are assigned a parent topic but no child. Clicking on the parent topic will get you all the cases on that general topic; clicking on a child will get you all the cases with that specific subtopic; there is no way to isolate cases with the general topic but no subtopic. For example, the “Army” topic has only a single sub-topic, “Assignments and exemptions from service.” As of this writing, there are four cases in the database involving the army; two involve that particular subtopic. So clicking on “Army” shows all 4 cases; clicking on the subtopic shows the two of those cases that involve assignments and exemptions; there is no way to isolate just the army cases that do not involve assignments and exemptions.
There are two ways of obtaining a list of all the cases for a particular topic. One, as mentioned, is to click on that topic in the “Refine Search” pane. The other is to click on the topic that appears below a case name in the displayed list of cases.
The most basic search is just a single word or set of words. That will find all cases in which that word, or all those words, appear. A list of words with no connectors will be treated as if there was an “AND” between each word. That is, a search will find all decisions in which all the listed words appear somewhere in an opinion.
Effective searches require the techniques set out under “Search Help.” The instructions below elaborate on those bare-bones tips.
Quotation marks allow searching for a precise phrase. So, searching for
fairness AND doctrine
yields several dozen results, consisting of all the cases in which each of those words appears somewhere in the opinions. However, in most of those cases the two words have nothing to do with each other; indeed they may be a hundred pages apart.
In contrast, searching for
yields only one case, the single case in the database that does indeed say something about that doctrine.
Searching within quotation marks gets the exact phrase, but may be too narrow, because it will miss examples where there is a slight variation. A proximity search will broaden the search, without the sweeping results produced by using AND. Thus, searching
“fairness doctrine” ~5
yields two cases, one that refers to the “fairness doctrine” and one that refers to “the doctrine of fairness.”
Proximity searches can be made using more than two words. For example
“reasonable balance damage” ~10
finds cases in which those three terms all appear within 10 words of each other.
An asterisk fills in for a single character, multiple characters, or whole words. Thus
“one * one vote”
will find both the phrase “one man one vote” and the phrase “one person one vote”. Or
will find cases that contain "terror," "terrors," "terrorism," and "terrorist."
A single asterisk will stand in for multiple characters, as in the preceding example, but not for multiple words. One can, however, use more than one asterisk. For example, the case of A v. Attorney General, CA 7155/96, contains this sentence: "Israel possesses no special law for the adoption of adults." Searching for
"possesses no * for the adoption"
will return no results, because no case contains that exact phrase, with a single word between "no" and "for." But searching for
"possesses no * * for the adoption"
will find A. v. Attorney General, since it contains that exact phrase with two words between "no" and "for."
Standard Boolean operators work as one would expect. The words AND, NOT, and OR must be capitalized, otherwise the system treats them as search terms rather than operators.
Parentheses are especially useful in allowing you to combine different advanced searches. For instance, to use the example that appears on the search page,
(Jaguar OR Cheetah) AND speed
would retrieve cases that contain the word “speed” and also contain either “jaguar” or “cheetah”. A further refinement could be made with a proximity search, which would produce cases that are likely actually to be discussing the speed of either animal:
“(jaguar OR cheetah) speed”~5
To exclude a term, use either the minus sign or the word “NOT”; they function identically.
An exclusion must appear at the end of the search phrase. For example,
A NOT B and C
doesn’t work. Whereas
A AND C NOT B
will indeed produce cases in which the terms A and C appear and the term B does not.
To exclude multiple words, either precede each one with the minus sign:
Ramallah –terrorism –film
or use parentheses:
Ramallah –(terrorism OR film)
N.B. in the latter example, use OR rather than AND. The usage parallels ordinary speech; you are searching for opinions that do not contain either “terrorism” OR “film”; one would not say that one is searching for opinions that do not contain “terrorism AND film.”