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Finding Legal Information & Cases

Report dead links to the librarian

There are many ways to find legal information on the Internet… Using a web browser and going to known web sites -- Using search engines like Google, Yahoo, Vivisimo, etc. -- Subscription databases available through your institution like EbscoHOST, Westlaw Campus Research, etc.

Searcher Beware!

Many free sites will lead to questionable as well as reputable information. Evaluate!!

Legal searches can be some of the more difficult searches to perform. There can be many reasons for this: privacy, legal issues, proprietary nature of databases, content change, difference in coverage, and not all databases are equal or the same.

Printing cases - please check the browser, web site, or pdf settings and try to determine how long a case is before you print it.  Actual cases can be very long in terms of number of pages. A synopsis, brief, opinion, etc. may satisfy your information requirement for a class -- check with your instructor.

Free Internet Sources

Below are a few of the sites on the Internet you can use to find legal cases and information.
Some may require a free registration to access or to print or save the information.

The more specific information you have – the easier it is to find cases.

Google Scholar
Click the radio button below the search box "

Public Law Library
"PLoL is one of the largest free law libraries in the world, because we assemble law available for free scattered across many different sites."  Free registration.

LexisONE – Free Case Law
Click on
Free Case Law tab.
Search the last ten years of State & Federal Courts and U.S. Supreme Court from 1781 to present. Free registration.

Open Jurist 
OpenJurist's mission is to provide access to published United States legal opinions, Code and legal resources without charge. Free registration.

Law & Bioethics - Court Cases and Supporting Documents

Finding information "about" cases:

An article about a case is not the same as a case, but it will often give you information that will help to find the case easier.

You can use Google or other search engines. Suggestion - use the advance search options and phrases such as "legal case" to cut down results.

You can use subscription databases to find information about legal cases as well as finding a case.

Subscription Databases

WestLaw Campus Research
Access through the Sullivan University Library web page 
Databases and E-Books or Search Databases.
Follow instructions, or ask the Librarian for help.
See the handout:
Westlaw Campus Research Database: Finding Legal Cases & Information.

Access through the Sullivan University Library web page.
See also the handout: Finding Articles Online.

Other useful databases that we have access to through the Sullivan University Library web page are: ProQuest and Opposing Viewpoints.

Information you can use:

FindLaw - ABA Family Legal Guide : How the Legal System Works

Kentucky is in the 6th Circuit Court.

A Docket number is a number given to each case that is filed in a court.  States & Courts have their own number systems.
To search by docket number it would be helpful to know the court where the case was heard.

Opinion (also consilia) is usually a written explanation by a judge or group of judges that accompanies an order or ruling in a case, laying out the rationale and legal principles for the ruling.  There are also Attorney Generals opinions.

Brief (Latin "brevis", short) is a written legal document used in various legal adversarial systems that is presented to a court arguing why the party to the case should prevail.

Jot down a citation if you are going to use the case again, it will make it easier to find.
Any numbers and names will make it easier to search and cut down results.
Keyword searches can be cumbersome and produce a lot of unrelated results.

Legal citations look confusing, and they are.

Legal Citations - Briefly

Basically what you will see is the Parties names, Reporter Abbreviations (where the case was      recorded), Date and/or Court, maybe case history.

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 118 (1973).
U.S. v. Carroll Towing Co., 159 F.2d 169 (2d Cir. 1947).

In the above:

The names on either side of the v. are the parties (claimant / plaintiff and defendent) in the case. Often this is all you need to find a case.
These are usually read as something v something instead of versus, Roe v Wade.

410 U.S. is Vol. 410 of the U.S. Reports –

159 F. 2d is Vol. 159 Federal Reporter, 2dCir. is the 2nd Circuit Court.