Legal Research | Section 3.1

Fundamentals of Legal Research by Adam J. McKee

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The State Courts

State case law can be found in many different sources.  There are some differences from state to state on how the official version of case law is reported.  Each state either publishes or works with a commercial publisher to have published its appellate court and Supreme Court decisions.  State cases can also be found in regional reporters.  These volumes, published by West, collect state cases into seven regions.  The system is rather complicated in that there are seven distinct regions that have a series of reporters, and many of these have been split into a second and third series.

Official Reporters

Some states, such as California, publish their own cases in an official reporter.   Some states, such as Missouri, do not have an official reporter, so all of their cases are reported in a regional reporter (see below).  In the case of Missouri, the state contracts with West to publish these cases.  This saves the state’s revenue it would otherwise spend on publication.  It is faster as well.  For states that do have an official, state printed reporter, West publishes only the state’s Supreme Court cases in the regional reporters.

Regional Reporters

The regional reporters are part of West’s National Reporter System.  Cases in the regional reporters are enhanced with headnotes, Key Numbers, and synopses prepared by West’s staff of highly trained legal editors.

Atlantic Reporter, 3d is a regional case law reporter series in West’s National Reporter System.  This series covers opinions and decisions (from 1939 to the present) handed down by the state courts of Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.  There is also an older Second (2d) series.

Pacific Reporter, 3d covers opinions and decisions from 2000 to date issued by the state courts of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.  The older Second series (2d) covers opinions and decisions from 1931 to 2000.

South Eastern Reporter, 2d covers opinions and decisions from 1939 to date issued by the state courts of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

South Western Reporter, 2d covers opinions and decisions from 1928 to 1999 issued by the state courts of Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas.  The 3d series covers opinions and decisions from 1999 to date.

North Eastern Reporter, 3d covers opinions and decisions from 1936 to date issued by the state courts of Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio.

North Western Reporter, 2d covers opinions and decisions from 1942 to date issued by the state courts of Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Southern Reporter, 2d covers opinions and decisions from 1941 to 2008 issued by the state courts of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.  The Third series (3d) covers opinions and decisions from 1941 to date.

Note that the National Reporter System is very old.  This explains some seemingly odd regional groupings.  Note, for example, that Arkansas is in the Southwestern Reporter.

Electronic Resources

Case law is available in a variety of electronic formats, including CD-ROMs and DVDs.  The most common method of retrieving cases electronically is now via the Internet.  Most cases are available online from educational institutions and the various courts free of charge.  The downside to these free resources is that the research tools provided by commercial publishers are not included.  The two biggest commercial providers of online case law are Westlaw and Lexis.  Use of these services is offered by contract through these companies.  Most students in law classes will have access via their university library or other university entity.

LEXIS and Westlaw

Both of these are massive databases that make finding legal resources fast and easy.  Cases can be located by name or citation, as well as by searching for key terms arising out of the facts of a case or a legal issue.

Modification History

File Created:  08/08/2018

Last Modified:  06/13/2019

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License


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