Going Beyond Casebooks

Updated Sept. 28, 2011
Prepared by Mary Whisner for Foundations for Legal Study and Legal Analysis, Research and Writing.

You recently picked up your first casebooks. Hefty as they are, they do not have everything you want to know - even in your first quarter of law study. You might want to go beyond your casebooks, for example:

  • to read the portions of a case that the casebook editors chose to omit;
  • to find a secondary source to help you understand a topic discussed in class; or
  • to read a law review article your casebook cites.

This exercise will show you how.

If you are doing this exercise for a class, answer Questions 1 and 2 on a separate sheet (2 pages max.). Save your answers as a computer file and check your class syllabus for instructions about turning it in and due date.

Cases by Citation

The cases in your casebooks include the case name and citation, generally following the pattern:

Party 1 v. Party 2, [volume number] [reporter name] [page number] ([jurisdiction sometimes] [year]).

Here are some examples of state and federal case citations:

State Cases

Garratt v. Dailey, 49 Wash. 2d 499, 304 P.2d 681 (1956).

This case was published in volume 49 of Washington Reports, 2d Series (the official reporter for Washington Supreme Court cases), starting on page 499.

(The Bluebook uses "Wash." and "Wash. 2d" as the abbreviations for Washington Reports and Washington Reports, Second Series. Washington Courts—and therefore most Washington attorneys—use "Wash." for Washington Reports and Wn.2d for Washington Reports, Second Series.)

The case is also published in volume 304 of West's Pacific Reporter, 2d Series (the regional reporter that covers Washington and 14 other states), starting on page 681. Citations to more than one source for the same case are called parallel citations.

Hawkins v. McGee, 84 N.H. 114, 146 A. 641 (1929).

This case also has parallel citations, to both a state and a regional reporter, but New Hampshire Reports is not available here: the Law Library does not subscribe to official state reports outside Washington State for years covered by regional reporters.

The regional reporter is Atlantic Reporter (A.). It is located on the lower level of the Law Library (Floor L2), in the Compact Stacks, call number KF135.A7A8.

For a list of regional reporters and their Bluebook abbreviations, call numbers, and Library locations, visit the Gallagher guide on Court Reporters. You can also pick up one of our quick guides to reporter locations in the Reference Office.

All of these reporters have more than one series. Watch for the numerals after the reporter abbreviation - they are an essential part of the citation. For example, 30 P. 1 is a California adverse possession case from 1892, 30 P.2d 1 is an Oregon divorce case from 1934, and 30 P.3d 1 is a Washington maritime law case from 2001.

All of the cases in these reporters are also available on LexisNexis and Westlaw.

Many state cases are available on free websites. For most states, only the last few years are available (sometimes only the last few months). See links on the Free Law Online page. All Washington State cases (going back to the territorial court in 1854) are available from the Washington State courts website.

Federal Cases

Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186 (1977).

U.S. = United States Reports, the official reporter for United States Supreme Court cases.

Many casebooks give parallel citations to West's Supreme Court Reporter and the United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers' Edition, like this: Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186, 97 S.Ct. 2569, 53 L.Ed.2d 683 (1977).

All three reporters for the U.S. Supreme Court are in the Reference Area:

Title Abbreviation Call Number Also at
U.S. Reports U.S. KF101.A212 Compact Stacks
Supreme Court Reporter S.Ct. KF101.A322 Compact Stacks
United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers' Edition L.Ed., L.Ed.2d KF101.A313

U.S. Supreme Court cases are on LexisNexis and Westlaw. They are also available on free websites - see links on the Free Law Onlines page.

The T.J. Hooper, 60 F.2d 737 (2d Cir. 1932).

This case has only one party (and the party is a tugboat, not a person!), so the case name is not in the typical form of somebody versus somebody else. Cases involving vessels are often in rem ("against a thing" - that is, naming the vessel as the party, not the owner or the captain or the cook or any person). Other examples of cases with only one party include will disputes (e.g., In re Estate of Green) and attorney discipline cases (e.g., In re Disciplinary Proceeding against Brown).

F.2d = Federal Reporter, Second Series, a reporter by West (the same company that publishes the regional reporters). (The federal government does not publish an official reporter for the lower federal courts.) The reporters covering the federal courts of appeals and district courts are:

Title Abbreviation Court(s) Call Number Location
Federal Reporter F., F.2d, F.3d U.S. Courts of Appeals KF105 .F432 1st & 2d at Compact Stacks
3d at Reference Area
Federal Appendix F.App'x U.S. Courts of Appeals, unpublished cases only not available at Gallagher Law Library LexisNexis, Westlaw, and court websites
Federal Supplement F. Supp. U.S. District Courts KF120.F42 1st at Compact Stacks
2d at Reference Area
Federal Rules Decisions F.R.D. U.S. District Courts (selected opinions on civil and criminal procedure) KF8839 .F4 Compact Stacks

For more information on federal and state court reports, visit the Gallagher guide on Reporters & Digests. Reporters and dates of coverage can also be found in The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, 18th ed. (2005), in Table 1 (T.1), pages 193-242.


>Retrieving Cases by Citation on LexisNexis & Westlaw

In LexisNexis, use the Get a Document.

LexisNexis Get a Document screenshot


In Westlaw, use Find by citation (in the left sidebar of most tabs, such as the Law School tab) or Find & Print option. (Clicking "Find & Print" doesn't commit you to printing.)

Westlaw Find screenshot

For a case with parallel citations, use just one of the citations. For example, for Garratt v. Dailey, you can use either 49 Wash. 2d 499 or 304 P.2d 681.

Both systems recognize all the standard citation formats. Both systems are forgiving in how you enter the abbreviations—they will accept Wash. 2d, wash2d, wn.2d, and many other variants.

When a citation to a print source is available, you use it to cite the case—even if you found and read the case in on online system. Some cases, though, are not available in print reporters, either because they are too recent to have been published or because the courts that decided them designated them "not for publication." You cite those cases like this:

  • Dorsey v. Greyhound Bus Lines, No. Civ.04-116-P-C, 2004 WL 1859792 (D. Me. Aug. 20, 2004).
  • Beal v. Dep't Soc. & Health Servs., No. 29658-6-II, 2004 Wash. App. LEXIS 815 (April 27, 2004).

The numbers after the case names in these examples are docket numbers - unique file numbers used to identify cases within a court. You can use "Find" (on Westlaw) with a Westlaw citation and "Get a Document" with a Lexis citation to retrieve these cases. Neither system accepts the other system's citations.


Identifying the Court That Decided the Case

To understand the procedural posture and precedential value of a case, you need to know what court decided it. ("Procedural posture" and "precedential value" are the sort of phrases you'll fling around in law school. They might or might not impress your friends in the outside world.) Here is how citations will help you figure out the court:

Highest Court in a State

If the citation includes a reporter that is the name of a state, then the case is from that state's highest court (often but not always called the "Supreme Court"). Examples:

  • Garratt v. Dailey, 49 Wash. 2d 499, 304 P.2d 681 (1956) — Supreme Court of Washington
  • Hawkins v. McGee, 84 N.H. 114, 146 A. 641 (1929) — Supreme Court of New Hampshire
  • Goodridge v. Dep't Pub. Health, 440 Mass. 309; 798 N.E.2d 941 (2003) — Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
  • Hynes v. New York Central R.R., 131 N.E. 898, 231 N.Y. 229 (1921) — Court of Appeals of New York

If the citation does not include a state reporter, the state will be indicated in parentheses, with the date of decision. Examples:

  • Garrett v. Dailey, 304 P.2d 681 (Wash. 1956) - Supreme Court of Washington
  • Escola v. Coca Cola Bottling Co., 150 P.2d 436 (Cal. 1944) - Supreme Court of California

Lower State Courts

Sometimes the citation includes a reporter with a title that indicates the court. Examples:

  • Major Prods. Co. v. Northwest Harvest Prods., Inc., 96 Wash. App. 405, 979 P.2d 905 (1999) — Washington Court of Appeals
  • Hernandez v. KWPH Enters., 116 Cal. App. 4th 170, 10 Cal. Rptr. 3d 137 (2004) — California Court of Appeals

By the way, the California Reporter, a regional reporter, publishes cases from the California Court of Appeals and the California Supreme Court. The Pacific Reporter currently includes cases from the California Supreme Court but not the California Court of Appeals.

If there is not a reporter title that indicates the court, then the court is indicated in parentheses, with the date of decision. Examples:

  • Yun Ku v. Town of Framingham, 762 N.E.2d 855 (Mass. App. Ct. 2002) — Massachusetts Court of Appeals
  • Williams v. Powell Elec. Mfg. Co., 508 S.W.2d 665 (Tex. Civ. App. 1974) — Texas Court of Civil Appeals


Federal Courts

United States Supreme Court: The reporter abbreviation (U.S., S. Ct., or L.Ed.) tells you the case is from the Supreme Court, because those reporters only cover the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lower Federal Courts: The circuit (for courts of appeal) or district (for the district courts) is indicated in parentheses, with the date of decision. Examples:

  • Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Forest Service, 349 F.3d 1157 (9th Cir. 2003) -- 9th Circuit (an appellate case)
  • Seattle Audubon Soc'y v. Lyons, 871 F. Supp.1286 (W.D. Wash. 1994) -- Western District of Washington (a trial-court case)

LexisNexis citations often include the court; Westlaw citations do not, so the court is indicated in parentheses. Examples:

  • Dorsey v. Greyhound Bus Lines, No. Civ.04-116-P-C, 2004 WL 1859792 (D. Me. Aug. 20, 2004) -- federal district court, District of Maine
  • Beal v. Dep't Soc. & Health Servs., No. 29658-6-II, 2004 Wash. App. LEXIS 815 (April 27, 2004) -- Washington Court of Appeals


Finding Books in the Law Library

When you want to find a book in the Law Library, start your search with the Law Library catalog, found on the Library's website. This online catalog probably works a lot like the online catalog from your undergraduate college or university.

Catalog on homepage - screenshot

You may use the catalog from anywhere you have web access.

Note that Keyword is the default search. A keyword search looks for words and phrases anywhere in catalog records.

Use the pull-down arrow at the end of the Keyword box to change the search type to look for a specific author, title, subject heading, or call number.

To find a book in the Library, you need to know its location and its call number.

catalog record screenshot

The Location for this book is "Good Reads." Click on the Good Reads link to find out more about this location. The Status "Check Shelves" indicates that the book is currently not check out. You can go to the Good Reads collection and find this book on the shelves there by call number.

Subject headings are assigned to books by catalogers who look at the books and decide which headings - from a list prepared by the Library of Congress - most closely match a book's topic(s). When you search using subject headings, you are taking advantage of the cataloger's work in examining the books. One way to find more material on the same subject as one book you know is relevant is just to click on the subject heading: it is a hypertext link that will take you into a list of subject headings. Looking at the complete catalog record for Asylum Denied:

full catalog record screenshot


you will see that several subject headings have been used to describe this book. Click on Human rights -- United States. How many books are listed?

Analogy for caselaw research: Cases are also assigned subject headings of sorts: the topics and key numbers in the headnotes. In Winter Quarter, you will learn how to use the digest system to take advantage of this indexing.

For information on checking out books, placing holds on books that other people have checked out, and related topics, visit the Circulation page.

The catalog's advanced search provides additional options. For instance, if you are looking for outlines (i.e., study aids) on constitutional law that are located in the Reference Area, one search would look like this:

Catalog search screenshot

The catalog is a very versatile tool for finding material held by the Law Library. Please ask for help at the Circulation Desk or the Reference Office. The Library staff are experts at using the catalog and finding items.


Other Catalogs

As UW students, you also have access to a wealth of other library resources. The University Libraries consist of more than 20 specialty libraries and the main library at Suzzallo. The Law Library's catalog and the UW Libraries' catalog are separate. If you are looking for books on subjects outside of law, use the UW Libraries catalog.

You can borrow items from the UW Libraries; you can also request items through Summit, a group of almost forty academic libraries in Washington and Oregon.

Catalog screenshot showing UW Libraries and Summit button


Finding a Law Review Article When You Know the Citation

Remember how cases are cited? Law review articles also have the volume before the publication abbreviation and then the page number, like this:

Peter Westen & Jeffrey S. Lehman, Is There Life for Erie after the Death of Diversity?, 78 Mich. L. Rev. 311 (1980).

To read this article you would need to find volume 78 of the Michigan Law Review. Typically, a volume covers a school year. For example, vol. 78 of the Michigan Law Review includes six issues, from Nov. 1979 to Aug. 1980. When a law review volume is very large, the Library binds it as two books, but you still cite the article by the volume number. Some law journals only publish one or two issues per volume, so the Library binds two or three volumes in one book. Again, you still cite the article by the volume number.

Where is 78 Mich. L. Rev. shelved in the Library? Is that volume online? (Note that the catalog has separate entries for the print and online versions of this and other titles.)

Like the Michigan Law Review, hundreds of other law reviews are available on HeinOnline in the portable document format (PDF), often going back many decades or even a century. LexisNexis and Westlaw both have hundreds of law reviews. However, for most journals, their coverage only begins in the 1980s or 1990s. For example, LexisNexis has the Michigan Law Review, but only beginning with volume 81 (1982), so you could not find the above article there. Westlaw also does not have this article; it has selected articles from the Michigan Law Review starting with volume 80, issue number 5 (1982) and full coverage starting with volume 84 (1985). Recently, however, Westlaw has started extending its coverage of law review articles back in time.

In how many online sources can you find the Michigan Law Review?

For articles that available on LexisNexis or Westlaw, you can use Get a Document (LexisNexis) or Find (Westlaw), just as you can for cases. HeinOnline has a comparable feature called the Citation Navigator.

HeinOnline Citation Navigator screen



Question 1

Pick a case from one of your casebooks. Choose one from the United States decided after 1900. (The Law Library contains reporters for earlier state and English cases, but let's keep this simple.)

  • Write down the name and citation of the case you picked.
  • What court decided the case?
  • Was it a trial court or an appeals court?
  • What is the legal topic involved (e.g., battery, personal jurisdiction, unjust enrichment)?
  • What class is this case for?
  • Find the case in a regional or federal reporter OR pull it up on LexisNexis (using "Get a Document") or Westlaw (using "Find").
    • Compare the reported version of the case with the version in your casebook. Notice the synopsis and headnotes (one-sentence summaries of points of law) at the start of the case. These are generally not included in casebooks. Was anything else edited out of the casebook version? What?
    • Why do you think the casebook editors made the choices they did?

Print bonus: If you are using a reporter volume, take a moment to flip to the front of it. Look for reference features like lists of judges and a map of the circuits (in a federal reporter) or a map of the regional reporters (in regional reporters).

Online note: The Westlaw version will have substantially the same synopsis and headnotes as the regional reporter version. (The regional reporters are published by Thomson West, Westlaw's parent company.) The LexisNexis version will have different editorial features than the West versions.

Question 2

Choose a major case from one of your casebooks. (It can be the same case you used in Question 1.)

  • What is the case and its topic?

Use the Law Library catalog to find books on that topic in the Reference Area. You will probably need to use a broad topic (e.g., "torts") rather than the specific topic of the case ("battery"). Look for books that are national in scope rather than focused on Washington State. You will probably see hornbooks, nutshells, Gilberts, and various other review series. Choose two of the books and find them on the shelf (by call number).

  • Which books did you choose?

Find relevant passages in the books. Here are possible routes:

  • Check the front and the back for a table of cases. If your case is discussed, it will be listed, with references to page numbers or section numbers in the book.
  • If the book has an index, look up the topic.
  • Skim the table of contents to see where your topic fits.

Skim the passages you have found and write some comments comparing the two books. (For example: What sort of discussion is there? Is it a brief outline? Is it scholarly and filled with footnotes? Is it easy for you to read? Are you likely to use a book like this to study for class?)


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