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Summer Associate Research Guide: Locate Model Forms and Sample Documents for Drafting

This guide is intended for students who will be working at law firms over the summer. It is similar and related to the Experiential Learning Resources Guide which focuses more on externships and clerkships.


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 attorneys (and summer associates) 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 the firm’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 organize these forms by practice area and jurisdiction so they are easy to search and compare. Bloomberg has a slightly different organizational system, as is explained below, but it is also an excellent place to search for forms, especially transactional forms. 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.    Explore Content: From the Explore Content section of the Lexis Advance homepage, under the Content Type tab, 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.    Practical Guidance: Lexis' Practical Guidance experience is one of the five experiences on the left-hand side of the Lexis homepage along with Legal Research, Litigation Analytics, Brief Analysis and the Legal News Hub. Practical Guidance contains a wealth of sample forms aimed at practitioners. To locate these forms, choose a practice area then choose a topic, and locate ‘forms’ from the snapshot window. Alternatively, you can search across all of Practical Guidance from the main search box and then filter accordingly.

iii.    Practice Areas: Lexis Advance has a Practice Area tab under its Explore 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.

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 Practice Advisor on Lexis Advance. It is aimed at practitioners.  It is located via a link on the right side of the home page.  You can locate content by practice area, resource type, or jurisdiction. Among the resource types for each practice area are standard documents and standard clauses.

iii.    Sample Agreements: One other place to look for transactional documents on Westlaw is the Sample Agreements link located on the right-hand column under Browse All Content. Here you will find more than one million executed business agreements culled from the SEC’s EDGAR database. These are searchable and are organized by topic.

C.    Bloomberg Law: Bloomberg is most helpful for transactional practice, though Litigation Practice Portfolios have good examples of a variety of different litigation documents including pleadings, discovery, and settlement agreements.

i.    Transactional Resources: Transactional Resources, under the Law School Success tab, is one of the two best places to find sample forms on Bloomberg.  Here you will find links to a variety of different template forms under the Practical Guidance link for each of the four main corporate practice areas listed. In addition, there is a link to additional standard forms and filings on the right-hand side.

ii.    DealMaker Documents: DealMaker, under the Getting Started tab, has a library of more than 800,000 legal documents and millions of clauses that were used by top practitioners in real transactions.  These are searchable in a number of ways. You can search for documents drafted a under a certain jurisdiction’s law.

Locating Illinois-specific Forms

It may seem easy enough using Westlaw or Lexis Advance to simply choose the category ‘forms,’ restrict your search to the jurisdiction of Illinois and then type a few words in hopes that you’ll be directed to the perfect form. The truth is that the contents of the commercial sources varies greatly when it comes to form documents for Illinois clients. It is important to know the strengths and weaknesses of each of the commercial services. It also helps to be aware of ‘go-to’ form sets Illinois practitioners rely on. The titles and form sets mentioned here are also available in print at the LUC Law Library, if you do not have access to them online.

a.    Westlaw: Until recently, Westlaw had a marked advantage when it came to model litigation forms. As a historical matter, Westlaw’s parent company had purchased two smaller publishers that focused on materials for Illinois litigation practice. The forms from these print sets are now available from Westlaw.

Illinois Practice Series: The Illinois Practice Series is a series of nearly 20 treatises on different aspects of Illinois law written by local experts. Many of these texts contain forms. To see a list of titles, and to search, go to Illinois Secondary Sources> Illinois Texts and Treatises.

Illinois Civil Practice Forms: Illinois Civil Practice Forms has thousands of court-proven practice forms to cover every possible fact situation in a civil proceeding.

Nichols Illinois Civil Practice with Forms: Based on a 15-volume treatise on Illinois Civil Practice.

Illinois Forms Legal and Business: A 20+ volume set of forms covering all aspects of transactional practice in Illinois.

Personal Injury Forms: Illinois: This set contains 20 chapters on all aspects of Illinois personal injury practice from opening the case to appeals.

b.    Lexis Advance: LexisNexis recently markedly improved its collection of Illinois-specific template forms with the addition of IICLE handbooks (see description below) to its Illinois Library. The best way to search for Illinois-specific forms via Lexis Advance is to (1) go to Illinois> All Illinois Treatises, Practice Guides, and Jurisprudences, (2) run your search, and (3) filter your results to those containing forms. You can accomplish this by adding the term ‘form’ to your search query. It does not appear, as of this writing, that forms from IICLE publications have been integrated into the Illinois forms database. Here are a couple of the most popular resources.

Midwest Transaction Guide: State-by-state guide to business, wills and trusts, commercial, real estate and personal transactions. Sections include discussions of current business practices, tips for drafting and reviewing documents, a procedural guide and a rich collection of forms for each state.

IICLE: Among the most helpful Illinois-specific secondary sources are handbooks published by the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education, which are commonly known as “IICLEs” (after the Institute’s acronym). IICLE handbooks are written by Illinois practitioners and provide practical discussions of Illinois legal issues with citations to relevant primary authorities and many sample forms. Lexis Nexis recently made IICLEs available through Lexis Advance. The Law Library retains and updates all print volumes which are identifiable by their black binders. In addition the Law Library provides online access through IICLE’s Smartbooks database to the Loyola Law community (from on-campus computers, and from off campus with your LOCUS ID/password). LINK here

c.    Bloomberg Law: Secondary sources on Bloomberg Law are organized by practice area rather than jurisdiction so it is organized differently than Lexis Advance or Westlaw. Likewise, Bloomberg’s practice areas are, for the most part, organized around federal law (tax, employee benefits) so searching for Illinois-specific forms using Bloomberg is not all that helpful. One way to take advantage of the power and organization of Bloomberg Law for transactional documents is to go to DealMaker documents or clauses under the Getting Started tab and restrict your search to documents whose governing law is Illinois. There is one secondary source worth noting in Bloomberg’s Books and Treatises and that is James Publishing’s Illinois Pretrial Practice. This text, authored by a retired Illinois jurist offers step-by-step procedures, practice-proven strategies, and dozens of digital forms to assist practitioners with preparing pleadings, motions and discovery.

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.     Remember IICLE publications available via IICLE Smartbooks or Lexis for Illinois forms.

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

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

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