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Experiential Learning Resource Guide: Locate Model Forms and Sample Documents for Drafting

This guide provides research tips and links to resources for students who are working for a judge, a law firm, a clinic or a professor. It is similar and related to the Summer Associate Research Guide which focuses more on students working for law firms.


This page is intended to assist students in locating appropriate sample documents and model forms for drafting and to offer tips on how and when to use them. The page is divided into the following sections:

What are “Model” Forms and Why Should I Use Them?

Many lawyers spend the bulk of their time drafting legal documents such as motions and pleadings, estate planning documents,
corporate agreements and contracts. Reference librarians field many questions from practicing attorneys and law students who need assistance finding a template document or model form to use in drafting legal documents for a client.  To assist lawyers in this aspect of their practice, publishers have created a wide range of drafting aids that contain sample litigation and transactional documents. These sample documents or model forms often include helpful background, commentary, jurisdictional pointers, alternative provisions and drafting tips. Today, most lawyers store the documents they create in a firm or agency’s document management system or ‘brief bank.’  These precedent documents known as 'prior art' or 'go-bys' are often the best place to start when looking for a sample document for drafting.  But, when no such document exists, lawyers must look elsewhere. 

A Little Background on Locating Model Forms

Template or model forms are published in a variety of different formats. The two most common formats are multi-volume encyclopedic form sets and subject-based treatises containing forms. Practitioner material, like continuing legal education materials, may also contain model documents. The good news for students is that Lexis and Westlaw extract forms from the sources they aggregate and then locate these forms in searchable form 'libraries' organized  by practice area and jurisdiction. More recently, Lexis, Westlaw and Bloomberg have begun locating sample forms, drafting tips etc. in ‘practical guidance’ libraries. Sample documents can also be located by searching publicly-available court and agency filings.  For example, you can search the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) EDGAR database to locate examples of corporate documents like executive compensation agreements that publicly-held companies are legally required to file with the SEC. Likewise, you can search through a jurisdiction’s court docketing and e-filing system for examples of motions, pleadings and briefs that have been filed in litigation. Some of these filing systems are better than others.

Locating Forms Using Commercial Services

A.    Lexis: There are three main ways to locate forms on Lexis Advance

i.    Lexis ‘Sample Forms’ Library: From the main Lexis+ search screen choose the ‘Legal Research’ experience from the left-hand column. Click on the ‘Content’ tab and then choose ‘Sample Forms’. You can run a word search here or continue to narrow your search by choosing a jurisdiction or practice area and then run your search. Once you have a set of results, you will be able to filter those as well.

ii.    Practice Areas: Lexis also has a ‘Practice Area’ tab under its ‘Content’ banner. Once you choose the practice area you are interested in, you can scroll down past secondary sources and choose forms. You will be directed to an advance search screen for locating forms.

iii.    Practical Guidance: Practical Guidance is now a separate Lexis ‘experience’ located in the left-hand column of the Lexis+ homepage. This tool contains a wealth of sample forms, practice notes, drafting tools, checklists and more. These forms and other documents are organized by practice area and jurisdiction.

B.    Westlaw: When it comes to searching for forms, Lexis Advance and Westlaw are organized much the same way. One difference is that Westlaw may have more litigation-related template forms than either Lexis Advance or Bloomberg.

i.    Form Finder: If you choose Forms from the Browse All Content menu, you will be taken to Westlaw’s Form Finder. This is an index to the forms available on Westlaw sorted by jurisdiction and practice area. There is also a list of Westlaw’s most popular titles for forms.

ii.    Practical Law: Practical Law is similar to Practical Guidance on Lexis. There is a link to Practical Law under the ‘Content Types’ tab on the Westlaw Edge homepage.  Model forms and drafting guides are organized by practice area, resource type, and jurisdiction.

C.    Bloomberg Law: Bloomberg Law does not have a ‘sample forms’ library like those found on Lexis and Westlaw but it does have an excellent ‘Practical Guidance’ library. The Practical Guidance homepage is located under the Practitioner Tools tab on the Bloomberg Law homepage. Similar to Lexis and Westlaw, Bloomberg’s Practical Guidance library offers a “collection of step-by-step and topical guidance on specific transactions, compliance issues, the litigation process, and other issues.”

Some General Tips on Working with Model Forms

a.    If you are working for a firm, check the firm’s document management system for possible samples to begin with.

b.    When working with model forms, it is generally better to focus on forms specific to your jurisdiction, but if you are not finding what you need, look for forms from elsewhere. Your next best bet is to look for forms  from national sets as they will be slightly more general but may be modified to suit your client’s needs.  This is especially true if your state has specific legal requirements that must be complied with.

c.    It is important to understand the context when working with forms. Check the Table of Contents link to see what similar related forms (or clauses) are available.

d.    Remember that model forms are just a starting point.  You always need to tailor forms to fit your own factual situation. Also, always make sure model forms reflect the most current laws for your jurisdiction.

e.    Be wary of using free forms available on the Internet. Legal information is often free for a reason; it may lack credibility, authenticity, or timeliness.

f.    If you are looking for sample pleadings, the “briefs” feature on Westlaw and Lexis Advance can be a helpful feature.

g.    For more on locating litigation-related forms, see Locating Litigation Forms under the Where to Start Chart, above.

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