Skip to main content

Legal Research Manual

This edition of Legal Research Manual builds on many previous editions. While the manual is designed principally for use with the first year legal research classes, upper year law students will also find it a useful reference.

Key Sources for American Caselaw

Key Print Reporters for Federal Decisions

Key Print Reporters for State Decisions

Generally, only the highest state court decisions are always reported. Intermediate appellate court decisions may be reported selectively. Trial decisions are not generally reported except in some official state reports.

Only some states have official state reports. However, the West National Reporter System: Regional Reporters are the most widely used law report series. For more information and a listing of the relevant reporters, see the Regional Reporters Map.

Understanding the American Digest System

The American Digest System (also known as the West Key Numbering System) is an ambitious system that attempts to digest every reported case in the National Reporter System according to a very detailed title classification scheme (the Key Number System). These are the same Key Number Digests appearing in headnotes in the National Reporter System. Each case is assigned a separate Digest Topic Number (broad topic) and Digest Key Number (specific issue), e.g. 253k865 - 253 is digest topic Marriage and Cohabitation and k865 is the key number for Burden of proof. In theory, all cases dealing with this issue can be retrieved by searching this West Key Number. The Key Number Digests are included in the headnote for each case, and can be searched separately or in combination with the full text of decisions.