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Basic Legal Research: A Guide

Resources and search tips for finding legal scholarship, court cases, statutes, regulations, and legislative histories.

Important things to know about locating court cases

  • Most cases can be found electronically in either LexisNexis Academic or Westlaw Campus Research.
  • Cases published in print will be located in books called "reporters." There are different reporters for the different levels of court.
  • The majority of published court decisions are from the appeals level.
  • Only a very small percentage of cases from the U.S. District Courts are published. Usually these cases must be of important legal interest. District Court cases that are published will be located in the Federal Supplement (F. Supp.) or Federal Rules Decisions (F.R.D.).
  • Most print state court reporters are no longer kept up-to-date, therefore it is best to use LexisNexis Academic or Westlaw Campus Research to locate state case decisions. 

Court Case Citations

There are 3 ways to retrieve a case:

1. Citation

In both print reporters and in online databases cases are identified by citations. The citation for Roe v. Wade [ Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) ] is used to show a standard case citation.

 

Cases are published in both official U.S. Government publications, and by the private legal publishers West  and Lawyer's Edition. Therefore, you  will often find parallel citations for cases.

For example: Roe v. Wade (410 U.S. 113; 93 S. Ct. 705; 35 L. Ed. 2d 147)

  • 410 U.S. 113 (United States Reports)
  • 93 S. Ct. 705 (Supreme Court Reporter)
  • 35 L. Ed. 2d 147 (Lawyer's Edition)

2. Party name

You can retrieve a case when you know one or more of the parties' names. A party name can be (1) the full or abbreviated version of the official name (e.g., Scott v. Sandford), (2) the name of one of the parties (e.g., "Board of Education of Topeka") , (3) or the popular name of the case ( e.g., the " Miranda Rights" case).