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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

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:

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+ - Annotated Code

United States Code Service (USCS)

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

Lexis+ statute search.


From the webpage for the annotated code section, on the left side of the screen (marked with a green box) is "Notes to Decisions." The Lexis+ Notes to Decisions feature is similar to the Notes of Decisions feature in Westlaw: both are curated lists of cases that are organized by topic. Above the section information of the act, you can also click on "Citing Decisions" to find cases that cite to this particular code section. 

Lexis+ statute page for 18 uscs 1962 with green boxes around the Notes to Decision link and Citing Decisions link

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.