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Pritzker Legal Research Center

Researching Case Law

Guide to researching cases

Research Tip

Keep records of your work throughout the process.  Make notes of where you searched and your results from each step.  

This will keep you from having to repeat steps and will help you recall what search terms you used.  If you cannot find a definitive answer, you will be also able to report on what you did find and where you looked.


What Do You Need?

In looking for cases, bear in mind what kinds of legal points you will be making. You may just need the most authoritative case you can find to support a legal proposition. But for a typical analysis involving a factual issue, the following kinds of authority may be helpful: 
  1. Most authoritative statement of rule(s) from high court.
  2. Most recent reaffirmation of rule(s) from the binding lower courts.
  3. Which case most approximates your case facts? Do any highly analogous cases exist in other jurisdictions (especially if their overall legal principles are similar)? Typically, real world assignments do not precisely match precedents. The best lawyers are those who see connections between cases with superficial dissimilarities. 
  4. Which cases state the principles in the most advantageous way? In which cases does the position you represent win (e.g., the defendant, the movant, etc.)? 
  5. What trouble lurks in the cases that your opponent will exploit in attacking your arguments? 
  6. What trends can be identified in the cases (e.g., “no court has ever . . .”)? 
  7. What overarching principles can you synthesize into a framework to demonstrate to a court, even if the framework is not specifically articulated by courts? Are there related principles that may help support arguments you want to make? 

Where to Find Free Case Law Online

This guide discusses researching case law using Lexis, Westlaw and Bloomberg Law, the commercial databases most frequently used in law firms.  However, there are many free options for conducting case law research online. 

See the Library of Congress's Guide for more information:



This research guide was last revised and updated on 8/22/2019.