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Finding Case Law

Sources and strategies for finding case law about a topic.

Anatomy of a Statute or Regulation

The format of a statute or regulation varies widely by jurisdiction, but see this example of a codified federal statute:

statute components

  1. Title number.
  2. Abbreviation of the code. (U.S.C. is the abbreviation for the United States Code.)
  3. Section number. When searching in databases, you do not need to include the section symbol (§).

If you're unsure of the format to use when typing in a citation, there are some resources to help you:

 

Also see this short video from Westlaw:

Annotated Codes

If you know the citation of a statute for which you need to find relevant case law, annotated codes provide useful context--such as the history of the statute--and links to related law, secondary sources that will help you understand the topic, and cases which have interpreted that particular statute. See the following boxes for the options available within case law databases.

Westlaw - Annotated Codes

United States Code Annotated

To search the annotated code, first type in the citation and click the Search button:

Westlaw screenshot: searching the annotated code

 

The text of the statute appears. To view cases that have interpreted the statute, select the Notes of Decisions tab:

 

Westlaw screenshot: selecting the Notes of Decisions section

There, you can browse for a particular aspect of the statute along with links to cases and often, Key Numbers (see the West Key Number System explanation on the Find Case Law by Topic page).

State Statutes within Westlaw

Uniform Laws Annotated (ULA)

Lexis Advance - Annotated Code

United States Code Service (USCS)

Type in the citation in the main search box, then click the search icon:

Lexis screenshot: searching for U.S. Code citation

Choose the statute from the results:

Lexis screenshot: selecting desired result from list

Within the text of the annotated code, there will be links to case law which have interpreted provisions of the statute:

Lexis screenshot: locating relevant case law within the code page

Popular Name Tables

Sometimes, you only know the name by which legislation is referred to, such as the "Affordable Care Act" or the "G.I. Bill." In these instances, it's useful to consult a table of popular names in order to find the statutory citation or public law number. See the options below for access to popular name tables through different platforms.