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What You Always Wanted to Know about Legal Research (*But Were Afraid to Ask!)

This guide provides quick tips about common legal research tasks. It was originally prepared for a Bridge the Legal Research Gap program.

Starting with a Known Case

Do you already know about a case that deals with the issue you are researching?  That case can be used as a springboard to find other relevant cases by:

  • Using Shepard's (Lexis Advance and Nexis Uni) or KeyCite (WestlawNext). Enter the citation for the opinion and then review the citing references, that is, later cases and other sources that cite to the known case. Note that you can limit the citing references by jurisdiction, court, treatment, and other parameters.
  • Using West Key Numbers (WestlawNext) by identifying the relevant key number that focuses on the specific issue you are researching. Click on the headnote and then select a jurisdiction to locate cases dealing with the same issue.
  • Check the Table of Cases volumes of the American Law Reports (ALR) to see if the known case has been cited in an annotation. If it has, then review the annotation to identify other cases on the same topic.

Stuck?

Try these tips:

  • Look at the major cases cited by the most relevant case you've found.
  • KeyCite or Shepardize those earlier cases to find other related cases.
  • Look for a secondary source on the topic.

Updating

Just before you submit your project or research, review the status of the cases you are relying on (KeyCite or Shepard's) one more time to make sure that nothing significant has happened.