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Research in the real world starts here! Use this guide to orient yourself to the work and research environment.
Last Updated: Oct 5, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Case Law Research Print Page

Citing to Cases

Cases are covered in Rule 10.  Several of The Bluebook's tables are helpful for citing cases:

T1 lists reporters to cite for each federal and state court.

T6 provides case names and institutional authors

T7 tells you how to abbreviate case names and court names.

T8 gives you abbreviations for explanatory phrases, such as affirmance or overruling.

T10 tells you how to abbreviate state names in case citations.


Student Video


General Tips

  1. Identify your jurisdiction.  Use Table One of The Bluebook to determine the appellate court structure of the controlling jurisdiction. Opinions of the highest level appellate court are mandatory authority. If the highest court has not ruled, intermediate level appellate court cases are the best authority, but they do not bind the higher level court.
  2. Start with what you know. Look for cases in the annotations of a known statute or rule; read and Shepardize or KeyCite a known case; use headnotes to locate additional cases by digest searching (if you have West topics and key numbers) or by using the headnotes to find similar cases while researching electronically.
  3. Read the most recent cases first, as they will reflect the current state of the law and also contain citations to earlier relevant cases.
    Use the headnotes and syllabi to eliminate irrelevant cases, but remember that in order to fully understand a holding you must read the entire opinion.
  4. Use citators – Shepard’s in print or on Lexis, or KeyCite on Westlaw – to determine the validity and precedential value of each case you intend to rely upon or cite. Do this as soon as you locate a relevant case.
  5. Print or electronic? This will depend partly on whether you are authorized by your employer to use Lexis or Westlaw for a given project. If you are, a combination of print and electronic research is still usually best for ensuring comprehensive case research.
  6. For further information consult the TMLL Guide to Legal Research

Finding Cases

Use Secondary Sources

Secondary sources give the framework of the law, introduce the topic, offer expert analysis, and provide references to primary authority (cases, statutes, regulations). Books, law review articles, legal encyclopedias, and attorney practice materials are examples of secondary sources.

Use an Annotated Code

If you are researching a federal statute, there may be case law interpreting it.  Annotations summarize and cite to case law.

The federal statutes are in two sets: Westlaw's United States Code Annotated (USCA) and Lexis's United States Code Service (USCS).

All states have an annotated code.  Maryland statutes are in two sets: Lexis publishes Michie's Annotated Code of Maryland and Westlaw publishes West's Annotated Code of Maryland.

Use KeyCite or Shepard's

If you have one good case in your jurisdiction, you can identify later court decisions that refer to or mention it. Both services can be used to determine if a specific case has been affirmed, overruled, or modified by a later court decision.

Use a Digest

If you have a good case, regardless of whether it is in your jurisdiction, you can use West's Key Number Digest (online or in print) or Lexis's headnotes to related cases on your topic.

Search full-text online

For U.S. Supreme Court cases, use one or more of the following sources (coverage varies):

For U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals cases, try the following:

For U.S. District Court cases, try:

For state cases, consult the following sources:

  • Lexis and Westlaw: Check the coverage for each state.  For Maryland, Lexis and Westlaw provide opinions of the Court of Appeals (dating back to 1787 on Westlaw and 1770 on Lexis) and the Court of Special Appeals (for both systems dating back to 1967, when this court was created).
  • Check the court web site, listed at the National Center for State Courts
  • Google Scholar
  • Public Library of Law
  • For Maryland, Opinions of the Court of Appeals and Court of Special Appeals from 1995 to the present are available on the Maryland Judiciary Web site. Opinions are loaded on the day of filing.

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