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LRAW Research Spring 2025

Methods for Finding Federal Cases

There are three key methods for locating relevant federal cases in print and online:

1. By citation or party name;

2. By subject using keywords or phrases; and

3. By subject using the headnotes in one good case.

This section outlines the resources available for finding federal cases in print and online. Following are sections on how to find federal cases using free websites and  Westlaw Edge and Lexis Advance.

1. By Citation or Party Name

Volume 670 of the Federal 3d reporters.

By Citation
By far the easiest way to locate a federal court opinion is by citation. You may have the cite to a relevant case because someone gave it to you; you found it cited in another case; you found it cited in a secondary source; or you found it referenced in the annotations to a statute (U.S.C.A or U.S.C.S.).


Case citations include the case name, volume, reporter, and page number where the case begins. For example, the proper citation for the Sarbanes-Oxley Act whistleblower opinion from the Anatomy of a Federal Case section of this unit is Lawson v. FMR LLC, 670 F.3d 61 (1st Cir. 2012). Once you have the citation for the Lawson case, you can locate it in volume 670, page 61 of the Federal 3d reporter.

Free websites allow you to search online for federal cases by citation. In Westlaw Edge and Lexis Advance you simply type any case citation into its global search box. 

By Party Name
The print digest for federal cases is the Federal Practice Digest, which includes Table of Cases volumes to help you locate the full citation to a federal case when all you know is the case name and jurisdiction. For example, you could find the citation for  Lawson v. FMR LLC, 670 F.3d 61 (1st Cir. 2012) by looking in the Table of Cases volumes of the Federal Practice Digest 5th under either party name, Lawson or FMR LLC.  

You may also search online by
 party name (Lawson v. FMR LLC) using free websites. It is easier to locate a case by party name if you are able to narrow your search by jurisdiction and by date, which you are able to do using some free websites and the Advanced Search feature in both  Westlaw Edge and Lexis Advance

2. By Subject Using Keywords or Phrases

In print, you can use the Descriptive Word Index to the Federal Practice Digest 5th to find West Topics and Key Numbers for federal cases like Lawson v. FMR LLCthat address the Sarbanes-Oxley Act's whistleblower provisionLawson and other whistleblower cases are listed in the digest volume under the topic SECURITIES REGULATION, key number 35.14. The Federal Practice Digest 5th also includes Words and Phrases volumes that include federal court cases by jurisdiction that interpret the meaning of particular words or phrases, e.g. "whistleblowing."         

You can search for federal cases by keywords and phrases using free websites and subscription databases like Westlaw Edge or Lexis Advance. When searching online for federal cases, consider limiting your search using Advanced search fields in the narrowest possible database, e.g., South Carolina federal district court or 4th Circuit cases instead of "All Federal" cases.

3. By Subject Using the Headnotes in One Good Case

Headnote number 1 in the Lawson v. FMR LLC opinion below addresses the meaning of the word "employee" within the whistleblower statute of the Sarbanes Oxley Act. Headnote number 1 has been assigned the West topic Securities Regulation, key number 35.14. You can use that same topic and key number to find more federal cases that interpret the meaning of "employee" in the whistleblower statute. 

Headnote number 1 of the Lawson v. FMR LLC opinion. See link to the text of the opinion below.

Text of the Lawson opinion.

In print, locate the volume of the Federal Practice Digest 5th that contains the topic SECURITIES REGULATION, key number 35.14 and under that topic and key number you will find Lawson v. FMR LLC and other federal court opinions listed by jurisdiction that address the meaning of "employee" under the whistleblower provision of the Sarbanes Oxley Act.

In Westlaw Edge, simply click on the key number from headnote number 1 in the Lawson v. FMR LLC opinion and choose one or more jurisdictions (e.g., 4th Circuit, 7th Circuit, both, All Federal) to find more cases on that same issue. 

Lexis Advance uses a similar system of assigning topics to its LexisNexis Headnotes®. From the assigned topic above the headnote in a case in Lexis Advance, you choose "Get documents" from the dropdown box and select one or more jurisdictions to find more cases on that legal issue. 

You can also browse or search West topics and key numbers in Westlaw Edge and browse or search documents by topic in Lexis Advance (See the videos in Finding Federal Cases Using Westlaw & Lexis Advance).