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Legal Studies

Important things to know about locating court cases

  • 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.).

Retrieving Cases

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



Parallel Citation

United States Reports

Supreme Court Reporter

Lawyer's Edition

(US) 410 U.S. 113

(S.Ct.) 93 S. Ct. 705

(L.Ed.) 35 L. Ed. 2d 1


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).


3.   Topic


Retrieving a case by topic electronically is relatively simple. However, if you are using a print reporter you will need to use a digest. A digest will assist you with locating a case on a specific topic or issue. West Publishers provides the most comprehensive digest system. For detailed explanations of how to use the West Digests in print use the following online tutorials:

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