How to Find a Law Case

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    Using Citations

    • 1). Review the parts of a legal citation. Know the case name, reporter volume, abbreviations, page and year of publication. Consult a law dictionary or encyclopedia for standard abbreviations. For example, "U.S." stands for the Supreme Court of the United States.

    • 2). Use the law library's print reporters or online database with access to standard reporters. See, for example, how the William & Mary Law School library contains the regional, federal and state reporters.

    • 3). Locate the volume number of the reporter mentioned in the citation. Turn to the cited page to find the case.

    • 4). Use an online legal database, either at a local library with free access or through a paid subscription. Open the "search" page and choose search criteria, such as case name, citation or reporter volume.

    Search by Subject

    • 1). Analyze your client's case to identify the subject. Frame a legal issue. For example, in an employment suit, the issue might be whether an employer is liable for ensuring the safety of his workers. Legal subjects to search would be employment law, workplace safety, employer's responsibilities and duty of care.

    • 2). Find law review articles and statutes on the subject. Note references to cases with similar facts. Use the citations to find the full text cases in the reporters.

    • 3). Search online by checking the database provider's list of terms and connectors for finding cases by subject. For example, to find cases that mention proximate cause as a concept, use recommended synonyms and symbols to return documents containing any form of the term, such as "proximately caused" or "direct cause."

    • 4). Locate a print case digest and look through the subject index for matching topics in state and federal opinions. Find topical discussions in the main book section. Read the case descriptions to find similar cases.

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