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Case Law Research

This is a guide explaining how to do effective case law research using online and print resources.

Research Strategies

If you're not sure how to get started on your research, this page outlines several strategies you can use depending on the information that you already have and are using as the basis for your research. 

If you're still unsure of where to begin, please feel free to reach out to our librarians, who are happy to help you develop a research strategy and search terms. Because we do not have any attorneys on staff, we cannot conduct case law research for you, but we can give you pointers and help you get started.

Keyword searching

If you're starting from square one and all you have is a phrase or legal concept that you'd like to look into, a keyword search of an online database is an excellent first step.

Remember that most legal databases have special search characters that can make your searches more precise and effective!

When should I use this strategy?

If you have access to a legal database and are looking for cases related to a certain phrase or general legal concept.

"One good case"

This strategy involves taking a look at a very on-point case and seeing what key numbers have been assigned to it, what cases it cites to, and what cases cite it. 

Relevant key numbers can be found in the headnotes section of the case. Cases that are being cited to will be included in the footnotes. A list of cases that cite your case can be found using a citator such as Shepard's or KeyCite.

When should I use this strategy?

If you've already found a case that discusses the topic you're interested in and are looking for more.

Using annotated resources

West's legal publications are written in such a way that they contain cross-references to each other as a way of leading researchers to more information on a topic. A common feature you'll see in many of West's publications, such as Vernon's Texas Statutes and Codes Annotated or the legal encyclopedia Texas Jurisdprudence is a section titled Research References. This section will list relevant key numbers and other resources in the library that will allow a researcher to gather more helpful information.

Annotated statutes will also contain a list of Notes of Decisions, which are cases that are directly relevant to a specific statute.

When should I use this strategy?

If you're researching a law and need to find cases about it.

If you've found a legal encyclopedia article about a topic and would like to find related cases.

Browsing key numbers

The editors at West have identified legal topics, subtopics, and key numbers into which all legal issues can be sorted. Using that framework, they review judicial opinions and assign one or more key numbers to each case. The digest system will allow you to look at the various key numbers and see which cases that West editors have deemed to be relevant.

Legal databases like Westlaw will also allow you to conduct keyword searches within a specified key number!

When should I use this strategy?

If you've found the key number(s) related to your legal issue and want to find cases that have also been assigned that key number.