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Case Law: Finding and Updating Case Law

Find Cases Using "One Good Case"

•  Read the Case

Once you have located a citation to a case that appears to be on point, pull and read the case. This step verifies that the case is truly on point and furthers your research by providing the list of cases the judge cited when writing the opinion.

•  Update

For this crucial step, consult the Shepard's citations appropriate for the jurisdiction, or use Westlaw's KeyCite. Shepardizing or KeyCiting fulfills several important purposes.

1. It tells you whether a case is still good law.
2. It indicates the treatment the case has received in subsequent opinions (whether it has been questioned, explained, etc.)
3. It provides citations to subsequent cases that have cited your case and may therefore also be relevant to your issue.

•  Finding Similar Cases

Once you have found a relevant case, examine the topics and key numbers covering the key points of law in that case. Then look under those topics and key numbers in the West digest for your jurisdiction to find annotations to other relevant cases.

Find Cases By Name

•  Consult the Relevant Digest

You can use the names of the parties in a case to find the case's citation. First, determine the jurisdiction governing the case and identify the digest that covers that jurisdiction. If you are unsure of the jurisdiction for your case, consult the American Digest system for a Decennial Digest Table of Cases that covers all jurisdictions.

•  Table of Cases

Use the Table of Cases volumes at the end of the digest set to look for the name of the known party. The table provides the full name of the case as well as the citation. Remember to check the supplement and pocket part for more recent cases.

•  Abbreviations

Consult the list of reporter abbreviations located in the front of each digest volume if you are unfamiliar with the abbreviations used in the citation.

Find Cases By Topic (Using a Digest)

•  Identify Your Topic

Identify words or phrases that describe your topic of interest. Think about the parties, places, objects, acts, omissions, defenses, and relief that may be relevant.

•  Use a Digest's Index

Identify the jurisdiction relevant for your research and use the digest for that jurisdiction. To find cases on your topic, look for the terms you've identified in the Descriptive Word Index (DWI) located in special volumes at either the end or beginning of the digest set. The terms in the DWI will be followed by abbreviations indicating the relevant topics and key numbers.

•  Locate Digest References

Take the topic and key number you've identified for your issue and consult the main volumes of the digest. The topic headings are arranged alphabetically in the main volumes; within each topic the key numbers appear sequentially. Once you have found the topic and key number, read the case annotations that summarize the legal issues involved. The case name and citation are located beneath the annotation. If you are unfamiliar with the abbreviations used in the citation, consult the list of reporter abbreviations located at the front of the digest volume. Make sure you read the full case for each citation you think is relevant; do not rely on the abstract alone.

Updating Your Digest Research

Looking in the bound digest volume for your topic and key number is only the first step in finding relevant case law. To update your research, complete the following steps.

  1. Check the same topic and key number in the pocket part of the digest volume.
  2. If there is an interim pamphlet available at the end of the entire digest set, check it for the same topic and key number.
  3. Check the closing table in the most recent update to the volume (the pocket part or pamphlet) to find the number of the last bound volume of the case reporter that the update covers. Then check the digest section of each bound reporter volume and advance sheet that has been published after that volume.


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