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Finding Case Law

Sources and strategies for finding case law about a topic.


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Scott Vanderlin
Instruction and Outreach Librarian
D'Angelo Law Library
Subjects: Law

Searching Databases

The searching method for case law topics differs between the major case law databases of Westlaw, Lexis+, and Bloomberg Law. It is helpful to search more than one database, since the results will vary slightly. Searching multiple databases ensures that you are gathering the best case law for your topic.

Before searching in any database, you'll need to know:

  • your topic and any relevant keywords
  • which jurisdiction applies to your legal problem
  • which types of primary law apply to your topic, including federal and state statutes or regulations (see the Find Case Law from Statutes or Regulations page for more ideas)

While you may use natural language searching in any of the legal databases, searching by terms and connectors yields more specific results based on your terms' relationship with each other - such as if you'd like the terms to appear in the same sentence or paragraph. These operators differ slightly in each database, so see the subsequent boxes that will explain how to best conduct a search in each.


West Key Number System

Westlaw includes a particularly useful tool for finding case law about a certain topic, called the West Key Number System. This tool organizes cases and statutes into specific topics. See this handout for a more detailed explanation:

How to Use Terms and Connectors on Westlaw

This helpful handout describes how to use terms and connectors and how to filter results by jurisdiction:


Search Using Terms & Connectors

See this video for a detailed example of using terms and connectors while searching for case law:

Filter by Jurisdiction

To filter results by a particular jurisdiction, you may either (a) select the court(s) of interest by choosing them in the "Search:" dropdown box, or, (b) by running a search and then filtering the results.

(a) To add filters before searching, follow these steps:

1. Click the "Search:" dropdown box, located on the main search bar.

Lexis: choosing sources from search bar screenshot

2. Choose the jurisdiction(s) you would like to limit your results to.

Lexis: jurisdiction selection screenshot

3. You may also select the Category tab to limit by cases only, if you are only searching for case law.

Lexis: searching for case law screenshot

(b) to apply filters after running a search, follow these steps:

1. Run your search.

2. Choose your court(s) using the left sidebar. If you need more than one jurisdiction, choose the Select Multiple option.

Lexis: select court screenshot

Bloomberg Law

Search Using Terms & Connectors

This video demonstrates a search method for finding legal materials based on a topic and jurisdiction.