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Basic Legal Research Guide: Research in the Judicial Branch

Case Law: Federal

What is case Law? – cases are written decisions issued by a court, often referred to as a judicial opinion or decision. Cases are compiled in print sets called case reports or reporters. When searching for cases, you can search by citation, topic, or party name.

What are citations? –for every set of case reporters, whether official or unofficial and whether state or federal, there is a standard four part citation: volume number/reporter title abbreviation/page number/year. For a list of reporter title abbreviations see a legal citation manual. You can locate cases by their citation in either the print volumes or in an online database such as Lexis Nexis or Westlaw Campus Research.

Finding Federal Case Law: Reporters

1) United States Reports (U.S.) – U.S. Supreme Court

   a) Official: published by the government
   b) Print – 2nd Floor KF101 .U58

2) U.S. Supreme Court Reports (L. Ed., L. Ed. 2d) – U.S. Supreme Court
   a) Unofficial, published by Matthew Bender/LexisNexis
   b) Print – 2d floor KF101 .A31301

3) Federal Reporter (F., F.2d, F3d) ‐ United States Courts of Appeal
   a) Unofficial, published by West
   b) Issuing courts decide which cases are included
   c) Print: v. 1300 on 4th fl KF110 .W39; ser. 2 v.1 –current on 2d fl KF110 .W39

4) Federal Supplement (F.Supp., F.Supp. 2d) ‐ United States District Courts
   a) Unofficial, published by West
   b) “Significant” cases are selected for inclusion by issuing judge or publisher
   c) Print – 2d fl KF120 .W4x

Finding State Case Law: Reporters

1) Illinois Reports (Ill.) – Illinois Supreme Court

    a) Official reporter
    b) Print – 2d floor DOC.IL JU 6.8
    c) Digital (recent opinions):  
http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Opinions/recent_supreme.asp​
    d) Digital archive:  http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Opinions/archive.asp

2) Illinois Appellate Court Reports (Ill. App., Ill. App. 2d, Ill. App. 3d) – Illinois Appellate Courts

    a) Official reporter
    b) Print – 2d floor DOC.IL JU 6.7
    c) Digital (recent opinions):  
http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Opinions/recent_appellate.asp
    d) Digital archive:  http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Opinions/archive.asp

(3) Regional: Includes both federal and state cases

   i) Northeastern Reporter (N.E., N.E.2d) ‐ Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio
      a) Unofficial: Published by West
      b) Print – 2d floor KF135 .N6

Finding Case Law by Party Name


(i) Print sources

You can find cases and their citations using print resources by using the Case Name volumes at the end of a West digest set. Some digests have volumes listing cases by Plaintiffs or Defendants or both

(ii) Online sources

You can find a case using party names on both Lexis Nexis and Westlaw by entering the litigants’ names in the “find by name search” box.

Finding Case Law by Topic

To find cases on a certain topic, there is a case finding tool called a case digest. By looking up your topic in the digest for federal or state cases, you will find a list of citations to cases covering the same point. All digests are located on the 2d floor in the Legal Reference section.

(i) American Digest System. Decennial Digests – covers both federal and state cases, organized in 10 year increments. Updating is accomplished through use of the General Digest, which contains all the topics for which cases are reported in the time period covered.

(ii) Federal Cases

1) United States Supreme Court Digest. The United States Supreme Court Digest is cumulative from the inception of the Supreme Court in 1790,  and a researcher need consult only one volume and pocket part to find all Supreme Court cases on a particular legal issue.

2) Federal Practice Digests –There are five editions covering distinct time periods. The Federal Digest covers cases from 1754 to 1939 and is red. The Modern Federal Practice Digest covers cases from 1939 to 1960 and is green. West's Federal Practice Digest 2d is medium blue and covers cases from 1961 to 1975; West's Federal Practice Digest 3d is burgundy and covers cases from 1975 to 1992, and West's Federal Practice Digest 4th is navy and covers cases from 1992 to the present. Only the latest edition's volumes are updated with pocket parts.

(iii) State Cases

The Illinois Digest (1st edition covers cases before 1938 and the 2d edition covers cases from 1938 to the present) is an indexed compilation of summaries of decisions from both Illinois state and federal courts, organized by legal topic.