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Methods of Finding Cases: Print Research

A Guide to Basic Reporters & Legal Citations

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An Introduction to Researching Cases in Print

For case law research in print, there are two main tools to know about: reporters and digests.

 

Reporters

  • 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.

How to Locate Topics and Key Numbers in a PRINT Digest – 3 Methods

From the Descriptive Word Index. If you do not have a relevant case and are unfamiliar with the topic:

  • After making a list of search terms, consult the Descriptive Word Index of the digest. Index volumes sit at the end of the digest set.
  • Look up all the possible terms you can think of related to your issue.  Follow up on all cross references and check the index volume’s pocket part for new index headings.
  • Note the topic and key number for your terms that are listed in the index subject headings, e.g., Adop  1
  • Select the appropriate digest volume that contains your topic, e.g., Adoption
  • Look up the topic and key number in the subject volumes.
  • Consult the topic outline at the beginning of the topic to find related topics and key numbers.
  • Use the topic and key number to locate relevant case summaries and their citations in the pages following the topic outline.
  • For later cases, see the same topic and key numbers in the pocket part.

From a topic entry. If you do not have a relevant case but are somewhat familiar with the topic:

  • Select the volume of the digest that contains your topic, e.g., Adoption
  • Consult the topic outline at the beginning of your topic.
  • Review subjects included and excluded and the outline of key numbers.
  • Note the topic and key numbers that appear relevant, e.g., Adop  1
  • Use the topic and key numbers to locate relevant case summaries and their citations in the pages following the topic outline.
  • For later cases, see the same topic and key numbers in the pocket part.

From ONE GOOD CASE. If you already have one good case and want to find more like it:

  • Read the headnotes at the beginning of the case and identify those most relevant to your issue.
  • Note the topic and key number assigned to the headnote, e.g., Adop  1
  • Go to the appropriate West digest for your jurisdiction and find the volume containing your topic and key number.
  • Find relevant case summaries for your topic and key number in the pages following the topic outline.
  • Skim the summary paragraphs to determine which cases to pursue.
  • Note the case citations under the paragraphs.  Use the court and date abbreviations to target appropriate cases.
  • Go back to the topic outline and look for related topics and key numbers.
  • For later cases, see the same topic and key numbers in the pocket part.