Legal Research | Section 3.3

Fundamentals of Legal Research by Adam J. McKee

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Official codes and cases lack some important research tools that can aid in legal research.  While they must be cited in court documents, they may not actually be the best resource.

Supreme Court Reporter (S. Ct.)

This is an unofficial publication of United States Supreme Court cases.  It is published by West, which is a Thomson Reuters company.  The cases themselves are identical to those published in United States Reports.   The formatting is a little different, but the major difference lies in the editorial enhancements.  The two major enhancements are digest topics and key numbers.  The digests are a proprietary tool that allows the researcher to quickly and efficiently expand on research.  These digest topics and key numbers link most all West publications together, making research tasks easier.

Lawyers’ Edition (L. Ed., L.Ed. 2d)

Lawyers’ Edition is another unofficial publication of United States Supreme Court cases.  It is published by LexisNexis.  This means that if your university subscribes to a LexisNexis product, you will be getting the Lawyers’ Edition features.


Unofficial legal publications often contain headnotes.  These headnotes are appended by the editors to the front material of a case.  When you first begin conducting legal research, these headnotes can seem confusing; you may not know what are editorial additions and what is the actual case.  One of the first skills you must learn is differentiating between the two.  The headnotes of a case are a valuable research tool, proven valuable over a long history.  You will no doubt find this editorial information very useful, but you may not cite it in court documents.  All of the sources you rely on must come from the actual opinion of the court.

Modification History

File Created:  08/08/2018

Last Modified:  08/08/2018

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

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