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Researching a Legal Topic


Federal & State Legal Cases

This guide highlights some of the legal resources available to the BC Community. Law School students may want to go directly to the Law Library's website.

Finding a case

Locating a case when you have the party names or the citation

Citing to Cases

Citing to legal cases The basic components of a case are:

  • the party names
  • the published source (where it can be found)
  • the year of the decision

The first of the two examples below is a Supreme Court case.  The second is from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Morse v. Frederick, 551 U.S. 393 (2007)

Phillips Exeter Acad. v. Howard Phillips Fund, Inc., 196 F.3d 284 (1st Cir. 1999)

Case - Definition

There are several definitions for "case". It is often considered a synonym of "lawsuit", but for legal research "case" usually means the written decision/opinion of a judge or group of judges. These written decisions serve as authority or 'precedent', which is often binding and always important to subsequent decisions. The courts whose decisions are published are almost always appellate courts, not trial courts.

Many lawsuits will not have a written decision available either in print or on the web; the record will only be available at the courthouse in which the legal proceedings were held. For more information on how the law works see Legal Research: How to Find and Understand the Law (O"Neill KF 240 .E35).