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Finding Cases

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


Reference Desk Hours

During the fall and spring semesters, the reference desk is typically available for walk-up, email, phone, or chat questions during these hours:

Monday to Thursday
9am - 6pm
9am - 5pm
noon - 4pm

During finals, intersession, and summer sessions hours vary.

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Knowing how to find a case is essential for legal research. This guide will help you understand: 

  • How to decipher legal citations; 
  • Parallel citations; 
  • Frequently cited reporters (and their abbreviations) 
  • How to find cases when you do not know the citation; 
  • Online digests; 
  • Citators; 
  • Using secondary sources; and
  • Online resources like Lexis and Westlaw. 

Deciphering Citations

magnifying glassA case citation includes: the names of the parties, the volume number of the case reporter, the abbreviated name of the reporter, the page number where the case can be found, and the year of the decision.

EXAMPLE:  Reserve Insurance Co. v. Pisciotta, 30 Cal.3d 800 (1982).

Reserve Insurance Co. v. Pisciotta = names of the parties
30 = volume number of the case reporter
Cal. = abbreviated name of the case reporter, California Reports
3d = series number of the case reporter, California Reports
800 = page number of the case reporter
(1982) = year of the decision

Parallel Citations

A case may be published in more than one reporter.  Parallel citations indicate the different reporters publishing the same case. 

EXAMPLE:  Reserve Insurance Co. v. Pisciotta, 30 Cal.3d 800, 180 Cal. Rptr. 628, 640 P.2d 764 (1982).

This case will be found in three places:  the "official" California Reports 3d (30 Cal. 3rd 800); and the two "unofficial" West reporters:  the California Reporter (180 Cal. Rptr. 628), and the regional Pacific Reporter 2d (640 P. 2d 764). 

"Official" reporters are either published or sanctioned by a court; "unofficial" reporters are commercially published.  However, West's National Reporter System has been designated the "official" reporter by some states which no longer publish a separate official reporter.