Legal Documents: How do attorneys find relevant case law?

Attorneys use various methods to locate relevant case law, depending on their needs and preferences. Here are some common ways:

  1. One of the most common is through legal research databases, such as Trellis, LexisNexis, and Westlaw. These databases are subscription-based and can be accessed through a law firm or through a law library. They contain a vast collection of case law from federal and state courts, as well as secondary sources such as legal treatises and law review articles. With these databases, attorneys can enter specific keywords and phrases related to the legal issue they are researching, refining their search by adding more specific keywords or by limiting the search to a particular date range, type of court, or type of document.

  1. Another way attorneys find relevant case law is through manual research in print publications, such as bound volumes of state and federal reporters, which contain published opinions of court cases. These are often found in law libraries and can be used to find older cases that may not be available in online databases. However, it should be noted that finding relevant case law in print publications can be a time-consuming process, but it can be useful when electronic resources are not available or when the attorney needs to examine a broader range of materials.
  2. There are also many other sources of case law available to attorneys, including textbooks, looseleaf services, and legal periodicals. These sources can provide attorneys with a broader understanding of the law and its evolution and can help them anticipate how courts may rule on certain issues. In other words, attorneys can begin to find cases from other jurisdictions that may be persuasive, but not binding, in the jurisdiction where they are practicing.
  3. Attorneys can also find relevant case law through the use of citators. While not available in every jurisdiction, citators are reference tools that help an attorney determine whether a case has been followed or distinguished in later cases. They also indicate whether a case has been overturned or superseded by subsequent legislation or court decisions.

In summary, attorneys find relevant case law through a variety of methods, including legal research databases, print publications, online search engines, court websites, legal research assistants, internal law firm databases, textbooks, looseleaf services, and legal periodicals, and citators in some jurisdiction.

Prior to founding Trellis, Nicole Clark was a business litigation and labor and employment attorney who handled litigation in both state and federal courts. She regularly represented multinational corporations in claims ranging from high-profile trade secret disputes to complex class-action litigation. Frustrated by sending internal emails and collecting anecdotes on judges in order to make strategic case recommendations, she built Trellis to solve her own need for access to data, information, and analytics at the state trial court level. Prior to law school, Nicole attended Bard College, beginning her college coursework at the age of sixteen. She graduated with honors from University of Massachusetts Amherst with a BA in Journalism, and received her Juris Doctorate from Rutgers School of Law in Newark, NJ. Nicole sat for the Bar Exam in California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and remains licensed to practice law in all three states.