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Finding Cases

How to find case law, both when you do and do not know the citation.

Finding Cases without the Citation

Without the citation, there are a number of ways to find cases, depending on what information you have. 

  • If you only have the party name, you can search Westlaw or Lexis, or one of the free resources listed in this guide.
  • If you are looking for cases on a particular topic, use a secondary resource like a treatise. 


An essential component of case law research is ensuring that the law is still valid. Has the case been overruled, either partially or totally? Has it been distinguished by other opinions, or followed by other courts? You can use the citators available in Lexis Advance or Westlaw to check. 

Lexis+ Shepard's:

Access by using either method:

  • Enter "shep:" in the search box, followed by your citation, then click the Search button.
  • When viewing an opinion, click on the "Shepardize this document" link.

WestlawNext KeyCite:

Access by using any of the following methods:

  • Click one of the following tabs while viewing a document:
    • Negative Treatment
    • History
    • Citing References
  • Click a KeyCite status flag.
  • Type keycite or kc followed by a citation in the text box at the top of the page (e.g., keycite 118 sct 2196 or kc 118 sct 2196).


Treatises provide scholarly analyses of discrete areas of law.  In developing an analysis, the author will discuss key cases and provide references to the citations, either in a footnote or a table of cases.

You can find print treatises at the LRC, or search for them in Bloomberg Law, Lexis or Westlaw under Secondary Sources. 

To find a treatise in the LRC:

1. Determine what area of law the case falls under.  If you are not sure, consult with the Reference librarians for suggestions.

2. Perform a keyword search using our Catalog. For example, if you're looking for cases on the first amendment, you could try first amendment hornbook or first amendment nutshell. 

3. Scan the entries, noting the call number and location in the library. Our books are organized by subject, so if you find the shelf for one book on your topic, it is likely you'll find other helpful books nearby. 

4. If you know the names of the parties, check the treatise for a table of cases. If you do not know the names of the parties use the treatise's table of contents and index to locate the relevant section in the text.


A digest is essentially an index to case law; it takes the headnotes that summarize the points of law discussed in each case and organizes them by subject. Digests contain indexes which are useful if you do not have much information about a case other than the name of one or more of the parties involved. Both Lexis and Westlaw have digest systems. 

Lexis+: Headnotes

You can use Lexis Headnotes to search by subject or browse. 

  • Click the Browse Topics option at the top of the Lexis Advance home page
  • You see the topic index for Lexis Advance; you can either search with the search box provided or browse through the list of top-level topics.
  • When you get down to a sub-topic (at which point you cannot expand any further down), you will be presented with the option to Get Topic Documents (see above under One Good Case), Add this Topic to the Search (adds it to the main search bar), Favorite this Topic (appears in your list of Selected & Favorite under the main search bar), or Create an Alert (get emails when new documents are added to this topic)

Westlaw: Key Number System

Westlaw has organized American law into more than 400 major topics, which can be narrowed down to over 100,000 specific topics. To access the Key Number system: 

  • In the Browse box, click the Tools tab; select West Key Number System
  • Options: (a) Search the West Key Number System from the search bar at the top or (b) browse the list of 450 topics
  • Once you get down to a digest document (a listing of cases that fall under a specific topic and key number), you can change the jurisdiction (at the top) and search within results to narrow your list of cases