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Legal Research for UNT Students

Resources for students new to legal research

Internet Resources and Databases

Case Law Research

When professors or attorneys refer to case law, they usually mean the written decisions or opinions of appellate court judges.  Researching case law is important to understand a particular legal issue because appellate court opinions are binding on lower courts deciding similar issues. When a court follows the decision of a higher court, or its own precedent, it is called stare decisis

There are many ways to find cases, and the method you choose depends on the information that you know about the case.

Understanding Citations

A case citation is a reference to a where a case is printed in a book. A case citation consists of a volume number, an abbreviation of the title of the book, and a page number.



What is a Reporter?

The set of books where cases are published are called reporters, and each one has a specific abbreviation which is used in citations.  Click on the following links for more information about the different for abbreviations to federal reporters and state reporters.

What are Parallel Citations?

When a case is published in different books, the citations to more than one book may be included. For example, parallel citations for Brown v. Board of Education include the following:

347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873

In this example, the case you will find at page 483 of volume 347 of United States Reports will be the same as that found on page 686 of volume 74 of the Supreme Court Reporter (published by West), and the exact same as that found on page 873 of volume 98 of Lawyers’ Edition (published by Lexis).

Searching for Case Law by Citation in Nexis Uni

Finding a case by citation using Nexis Uni:

First, go to Nexis Uni (subscription database).

Second, click on the Cases, and choose Federal Cases or State Cases. Next enter the citation information into the search box, and click Search. Only enter the volume number, reporter abbreviation, and page number, do not include the case name. It is important to enter the citation information exactly as listed on the case, or Nexis Uni will not retrieve the correct case.  

                            Example:             347 U.S. 483

image showing screen shot of case search in Nexis Uni database

The text of the case will look similar to this excerpt:

screen shot of case text from nexis uni database with annotations

Other information found in the case can include the following:

  • Case Summary: briefly describes the procedural posture, overview and outcome of the case. This is editorial commentary provided by LexisNexis and is not part of the official court decision.

Procedural Posture: this describes the case’s procedural history, or how the case arrived before the court.

Overview: provides a brief review of the underlying facts, legal issues and the court’s holding.

Outcome: contains the ultimate procedural disposition of the issues in the case, in other words, a succinct overview of the court’s decision in the case. 

screen shot of case summary from nexis uni database

  • LexisNexis Headnotes

For each case, a LexisNexis editor reads and summarizes each legal issue into a headnote. Headnotes are useful for searching for additional cases containing similar terms. 

Nexis Uni will also Shepardize the presented case by its headnotes. See Shepard's or Shepardize below for more information. 

screen shot of Lexis Nexis headnotes from nexis uni database


Finding a Case by Subject or Topic

First, go to Nexis Uni (subscription database).

Second, click on the Cases, and choose Federal Cases or State Cases. Next enter the research topic into the search box labeled "Search in all Cases for," and click Search.

Example:             racial discrimination

screen shot of case search by keyword in nexis uni database

In many situations, topic searches will provide a large number of case results. The results can be narrowed down by using the limiters on the left side of the screen. Limit by court, such as the U.S. Supreme Court, timeline, or other criteria. From here, you can also clear and reapply search limiters. 

screen shot of search limiters within nexis uni case search

Also, you can search within the results for additional terms narrow down the cases.  In the example below, the original results were narrowed further to include only cases which include the term hotels

screen shot of nexis uni data base search within results limiter

Finding a Case Using Party Names

Locating a case by party name (such as Brown v. Board of Education) is much more difficult and not recommended because the search results will include many cases which are not correct, and will require the user to sift through many results to find the correct case. If you only have the party names of the case, your best bet will be to contact the Sycamore Library for assistance.

If you do wish to search for a case by party name, begin at Nexis Uni (subscription database) and follow the same steps as you did for the keyword/topic search. 

Click on the Cases, and choose Federal Cases or State Cases. Next enter the parties' names (Brown v. Board) into the search box labeled "Search in all Cases for," and click Search.

Shepard's or Shepardizing

Persons new to legal research will likely, at some point, hear or encounter references to Shepard's or Shepardize. Here is a definition from

Shepardize Law and Legal Definition

Shepardize is a legal research method of locating reports of appeals decisions based on prior precedents from Shepard's Citations, books which list the volume and page number of published reports of every appeals court decision which cites a previously decided case or a statute. Shepard's volumes are organized by:

* State and Regional citators 
* Federal citators 
* Specialized practice area citators 
* Other citator products including Shepard’s Acts and Cases by Popular Names

These volumes are updated every month with supplemental booklets. Shepard's Citations are used to find appeals decisions which either follow, distinguish or deviate from prior case law. Shepard's Citations are also available for online legal research.

Nexis Uni provides a Shepardize tool for statutes, regulations and cases

Nexis Uni Shepard's

Additional Links