Searching for a direct citation is usually much more cost effective (and accurate) than using "natural language" searching (as you typically would use with Internet search engines). See the graphic below for the parts of a case citation as cited in volume-reporter format. Please note that some states are moving to a universal citation format; please see the Universal Citation box for more information.
In addition to the print reporter citation format, several state courts are moving to a public domain citation format for case law. This format is also referred to as vendor-neutral or universal citation. In this format, the courts themselves assign a decision number to the case rather than using the volume and page numbers of print reporters.
Public domain format has not yet been adopted by the federal courts, but several state courts require its use. Illinois, for example, requires public domain format for Supreme Court and Appellate cases decided after June 31, 2011. You can check to see if a state court follows the public domain format by checking your state in Table T1 of The Bluebook. See the graphic below to understand the components of this citation format.
For more information about the public domain citation format, see these links:
To find a case for which you have the citation, simply type in the volume, reporter, and first page of the case (sections 2-4 of the Anatomy of a Citation example). See the image below for an example search in Lexis+.
Or, if you're using the public domain citation format, type in the year, court designator, and opinion number. Below is an example using Westlaw:
In BLAW, type the citation in the main search box. Instead of clicking the search icon or hitting enter, wait to see if the database retrieves your citation. If the citation is valid, you will see an option to click on the citation to go to the case.
If you only know the parties of the case, you may search any legal database for a list of possible results. Also see these more efficient methods using Lexis+, Westlaw, or BLAW:
Use the name segment search tool to search by party names. To search by segment, use this structure: "name (insert party name here) AND name (insert second party here)"
See this example:
If you simply start typing in party names in the search box without using the name segments, Lexis will also automatically populate case suggestions, but the results are less exact than searching by segment.
2. Then, choose the Advanced Search.
3. There, type the party names. Use the ampersand (&) connector instead of "v." If there is more than one word in the party name(s), place the names in quotation marks.
1. On the home page, click on Select Sources within the search bar.
2. Then, click on Advanced Searches and choose the first option, Court Opinions.
3. Type the party names into the Party field. Use the "AND" operator instead of "v." If there is more than one word in the party name(s), place the name(s) in quotation marks. Click Search.