For case law research in print, there are two main tools to know about: reporters and digests.
- Cases are published chronologically in reporters. Reporters are organized by jurisdiction and date.
- There are official and unofficial reporters. Use Table 1 of The Bluebook to find which reporter you should cite to for your jurisdiction.
- West’s National Reporter System groups states by regions and publishes cases from those states' supreme courts and federal district and circuit courts. These are often referred to as regional reporters.
Reporters are especially helpful when you know what case you're looking for; but to search for a case in print by topic, the digest system is your most powerful tool.
Digests: Use to Find Cases
- A digest is a tool that is used to locate cases. A digest is both a subject index and a topical outline of case law.
- Digests contain summaries of legal issues that have been discussed in cases. These summaries are assigned a topic within the West digest system. Topics are then divided into subtopics that are assigned "key numbers."
- Key number system – Digest entries are arranged by topic and key number, alphabetically
- Types of Digests – for different jurisdictions (federal, region, and state) and for subjects (bankruptcy, education, federal claims, federal rules, federal rules of evidence, veteran’s appeals).
- The topic-and-key-number system remains uniform across the digests. So if you find a topic and key number that is particularly helpful to your research and you want to expand to find cases in other jurisdictions, you should be able to use another digest and look up cases under that same topic and key number.