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  • pg 1
• Introduction: Case Law, the Courts, and the Doctrine of

• The National Reporter System

• Case Enhancements

• The Topic and Key Number System

• The Key Number Digests

• Topic and Key Number Research
Introduction: Case Law, the Courts,
and the Doctrine of Precedent
Case Law: The Courts
• Trial courts are the entry to the court system. Trial courts are where
   – attorneys present evidence and make arguments, and
   – a judge or a judge and jury make determinations of law and fact.

• Appellate courts hear appeals of trial court decisions to determine
  whether there were errors of law in the trial court decision, such as in the
  admission of evidence or in jury instructions.

  (There may be more than one level of appellate court. A higher-level
  appellate court, such as a supreme court, hears appeals from an
  intermediate appellate court decision.)
 Case Law: The Courts
• There is a federal system of trial and appellate courts.
  – District courts are the federal trial level courts.
  – Circuit courts and United States Supreme Court
    are the federal appellate courts.

• Each state has a system of trial and appellate courts.
  The number of appellate levels varies from state to
  state but each state has a trial-level court and at least
  one level of appellate court.
        Federal Court                    State Court
           System                          Systems

District courts (trial-level)       State trial-level courts
(Southern District of New
York, District of Minnesota)
                                     Most, but not all, states
                                     have at least one level of
    Courts of appeals for       intermediate court(s) of appeal(s)
   the 13 federal circuits

                                      State supreme court

                United States Supreme Court
  Case Law: The Courts

• Appellate courts have control over trial courts in a
  specific geographic area or jurisdiction.

• Federal District of Minnesota cases are heard in the
  jurisdiction of the Eighth Circuit and its decisions can
  be appealed only to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
  8th Circuit. Decisions of the circuit courts can be
  appealed only to the United States Supreme Court.
 Case Law: The Doctrine of Precedent
 (Stare Decisis)

• Precedents are prior cases in the jurisdiction that are
  close in fact or legal principles to the case in

• The doctrine of precedent dictates that decisions
  reached in previous cases in the same jurisdiction
  dealing with the same or similar issues should be
  followed unless there is a good reason to deviate.
 The Doctrine of Precedent

• The decision of a court is binding authority on that
  court and on the lower courts in the same jurisdiction
  when deciding factually similar issues.

• The doctrine of precedent is founded on a sense of
  fairness and the belief that decisions should be
  consistent and not arbitrary so that the legal
  consequences of conduct can be predicted.
The Doctrine of Precedent

• The doctrine of precedent explains why attorneys
  need access to prior cases decided by the highest
  court in the jurisdiction.

• Cases decided in another jurisdiction, although not
  binding as precedent, may be a valuable source of
  legal reasoning for an issue not previously addressed
  in the jurisdiction.
The National Reporter System
  Case Law

• Without a coherent, uniform means of accessing cases from all state
  and federal jurisdictions, finding cases discussing similar points of law
  would be immensely difficult.

• The National Reporter System organizes both federal and state case law
  into a cohesive body of law that can be researched within and across
  Case Law

• Since 1879, West’s National Reporter System has compiled
  cases from state and federal courts and organized them into
  various reporter sets.

• Volumes in a set are numbered consecutively. A new series
  starting with volume 1 is begun when one series becomes too
  unwieldy, e.g., the volume following 999 F.Supp. is 1 F.Supp.2d.
    Federal Case Law

•   Federal district (trial) level courts are published in the Federal

•   Only a selection of district court cases is reported.

•   Citation format: 75 F.Supp. 225, 13 F.Supp.2d 881

•   These cases are on Westlaw in the DCT and DCT-OLD databases.
Federal Case Law

• U.S. district court cases can be appealed to the Federal Circuit court
  that hears appeals from that district. There are 13 U.S. circuit courts of

• The decisions of the circuit courts are published in the Federal

• Citation format: 333 F.2d 120, 37 F.3d 300
              The Thirteen Federal Judicial Circuits

The Federal Reporter cases are on Westlaw in the CTA and CTA-
OLD databases.
Federal Case Law

• Cases can be appealed from the circuit courts of appeals to the United
  States Supreme Court.

• Decisions of the United States Supreme Court are published in the
  Supreme Court Reporter®.

• Citation format: 99 S.Ct. 331.

• These cases are on Westlaw in the SCT and SCT-OLD databases.
    Federal Case Law

  There are also federal topical reporters that are part of West’s National
  Reporter System:
• Bankruptcy Reporter®
• Federal Rules Decisions®
• Military Justice Reporter®
• Federal Claims Reporter™
  State Case Law
• Only state appellate-level opinions are reported in the National
  Reporter System. Trial-level decisions are not reported.

• Cases from all 50 states are published in one of seven regional
  reporters: Atlantic Reporter®, Southern Reporter®, South Eastern
  Reporter®, South Western Reporter®, North Eastern Reporter®,
  North Western Reporter®, and Pacific Reporter®.

• There are approximately 30 state reporters, which are reprints of
  one state’s cases from a regional reporter.
The States Included in Each of the
    Seven Regional Reporters
State Case Law

This is the first page
from a volume in the
Pacific Reporter. It
lists the states that
have cases published
in the Pacific Reporter.
  Federal and State Case Law on Westlaw

• All cases from all the federal reporters are in the ALLFEDS
• Each state has a Westlaw case law database. The identifiers are
  XX-CS, where XX is the state’s two-letter postal abbreviation.
  Examples: (NY-CS, FL-CS).
• All cases from each regional reporter are in separate databases,
  (NW, SW, SO, ATL, NE, PAC and SE).
• All cases from all state and regional reporters are in the
  ALLSTATES database.
• All cases from all state, regional, and federal reporters are in the
  ALLCASES database.
 Updating Reporters

• Print slip opinions (without corrections or
  enhancements) of individual cases are sent by the
  courts to government depository libraries shortly after
  the cases are decided.

• A slip-copy version of the case generally appears on
  Westlaw within two to twenty four hours of receipt of
  the case by West.
 Updating Reporters

• Attorneys have access to all but the most recent
  cases through the advance sheets (which update the
  hardbound reporters) and are issued every two

• After going through a thorough editorial process, a
  case generally appears in the appropriate reporter
  advance sheet within six to eight weeks of receipt of
  the case.
Attorney-Editorial Case Enhancements
 Editorial Enhancements

• This slip opinion appears just as written by the judge and
  processed and filed with the court.

• West attorney-editors take the language of the court, correct
  errors, and add features that are essential tools for the careful
Editorial Scrutiny
• When West receives a slip opinion
  – the manuscript is scrutinized for accuracy
  – parallel citations are added
  – textual information is updated
  – the court is contacted if clarification or corrections are needed

• More than 1.5 million case citations are checked, 500,000
  parallel citations are added, and 80,000 errors in opinions are
  corrected each year.
 Finding Tools

 Both the advance sheets and the bound volumes of the reporters

• a Table of Cases arranged by state
• a Table of Statutes interpreted by cases covered
• a list of Words and Phrases defined by the cases covered
• Tables of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Federal Rules
  of Evidence that are interpreted by the cases covered in the
  advance sheet or reporter
Editorial Enhancements Created by
West Attorney-Editors
• Synopsis: A summary of the procedural history, the
  facts, the main points of law, and the holding of the

• Headnotes (digest paragraphs): Summaries of the
  points of law discussed in the body of the opinion.

• Key Numbers: Headnotes are assigned to a topic and
  key number in the West Key Number System.
Editorial Enhancements
• Headnotes and synopses are prepared by West attorney-editors
   – consistent and current legal terminology instead of
      ambiguous, regional, or outdated words
   – descriptive terms instead of proper names

• Examples:
   – Tenant is used instead of Mr. Blake or plaintiff
   – Aspirin is used instead of Bufferin or Tylenol
   – Intoxicated is used instead of tipsy or inebriated

These headnotes can help you retrieve many online cases that you might
                           otherwise miss.
  Synopsis and Headnotes
• The synopsis is the first paragraph of
  every National Reporter System case.

• Headnotes follow the synopsis in
  every National Reporter System case.

• Headnotes appear in the order the
  points of law are discussed in the
Editorial Enhancements and Fields
• Each online National Reporter System case is divided into
  segments called fields.

• A digest (headnote) field search and/or synopsis field search is
  an efficient way to search the online case law databases.

               di(wrongful! /3 terminat! discharg!)

• A digest field search allows you to retrieve a great number of
  cases that you would otherwise miss but at the same time will
  limit retrieved cases to ones in which the point of law you are
  researching is central to the holding of the case.
Field Searches on Westlaw

• Synopsis field search in Westlaw case law database:
               sy(malpractice /p “foreign object”)

• Digest field (headnote) search in a Westlaw case law database:
              di( bystander /p “emotional distress”)

• A combined synopsis and digest field search in a Westlaw case
  law database:
                sy,di(landlord /p “common area”)
Field Searches on Westlaw

Other fields:
• Citation
   (volume number, the reporter, and the first page number of the case)
• Title or Caption (names of parties)
• Docket Number (the number assigned to the case when it is filed with the
  court; this number follows the case through its litigation history)
• Attorneys of Record
• Judge(s)
• Opinion
The Topic and Key Number System
 Headnotes and the Topic and Key Number System

• When West receives an opinion from the court, a West attorney-
  editor identifies the points of law discussed in the case.

• Each point of law is summarized in a headnote.

• After carefully analyzing the point of law that the headnote
  discusses, the West attorney-editor assigns the headnote to at
  least one key number in the West Topic and Key Number
Headnote Number (2)
  Topic Number (92)

  Key Number 90.1(1.2)


       This headnote summarizes the second point of law
  discussed in this case on Westlaw. The headnote is assigned
  to key number 90.1(1.2) under Topic 92 (Constitutional Law).
The West Topic and Key Number System

• is an extensive outline of the entire body of case law in this

• is an index to the entire National Reporter System, helping you
  more easily locate cases with similar legal issues in any

• is a classification system with at least one topic and key number
  assigned to each point of law.
The West Topic and Key Number System

• divides the law into approximately 400 broad digest

• breaks down each topic into subheadings

• contains approximately 100,000 specific key numbers
• The topic are arranged alphabetically and
  numbered between 1 and 450.

• Each topic addresses a broad legal issue.

• Some topics have been added after the
  original 414 topics were assigned numbers.
   – See, 48A Automobiles
   – See, 48B Aviation

• Other topics have been eliminated or
  renamed (e.g., West attorney-editors no
  longer use topic 3).
Topics and Key Numbers
                     92 Constitutional Law (Topic)
                92V Personal, Civil and Political Rights (Subheading)
                       92k90 Freedom of Speech and of the Press
                       92k90.1 Particular Expressions and Limitations
                              92k90.1(1.2) k. Election Regulations
                                           (Specific Key Number)

• Each topic is broken down into subheadings.

• There can be as many as eight levels in the topic and key
  number hierarchy.

• This process continues until further breakdown of a legal issue is
  unproductive and a specific key number is assigned. See,
  92k90.1(1.2), above.
       Topics, Subheadings, and Key

• This is a breakdown of subheading
  90.1 (Particular expressions and
  limitations) under the Constitutional
  Law topic and subheading V.
  (Personal, Civil and Political Rights)
  in the print version of the digest.

• 92k90.1(1.2) is the specific key
  number dealing with Election
Currentness of Topics
  Topics or portions of topics are added, renamed,
 expanded, contracted, merged, or eliminated as law,
       society, and political sensitivity dictate.

• Insurance topic was reorganized in 1998; Negligence topic was
  reorganized in 1999
• RICO topic was added in 1990; Sentencing topic was added in 2000
• Drunkards topic became inactive in 1978 and all new cases were
  classified under a new topic, Chemical Dependents. The new topic also
  contains some issues that were previously categorized under Drugs
  and Narcotics
• Insane Persons topic was renamed Mental Health
 Currentness of Key Numbers
  Key numbers are added, renumbered, or transferred to other
  topics as law, society, and political sensitivity dictate.
• What was once a specific key number may be expanded over
  time to provide deeper analysis of a growing area of the law.
• Translation tables in print volumes aid in moving between the old
  and new classifications.
• On Westlaw, a “Formerly” line is added to key numbers that have
  changed so you can search by old or new key number. (See
Think of the topic and key number as an address:

– Each street in the city represents a digest topic.
– There are many houses on each street and each
  house has its own number.
– In order to find a particular house, you must know
  both the street name (topic) and the house number
  (key number).
Key Number Digests
          Key Numbers and Key Number
      • West’s Key Number Digests are the research link between Key
        Numbers and the National Reporter System cases.

      • The digests contain the headnotes (digest paragraphs) and their
        corresponding topic and key numbers from every set of cases in
        the National Reporter System.

      • The headnotes (digest paragraphs) are
        organized first alphabetically by topic and then
        numerically by key number.

          Key Number Digests
    Digest sets include:

    • State digests
    • Regional digests
    • Federal Practice Digest
    • Specialty subjects, such as Bankruptcy, Military Justice, Federal
      Claims, and Education Law digests
    • Decennial digests, which contain all headnotes from cases for each
      10-year period beginning with 1897
    • The Century Digest, which contains headnotes from cases from
      1658 to 1896

          West’s Key Number Digests

              Each digest series spans many volumes and is
           organized first alphabetically by topic then numerically
                               by key number.
Finding and Using Relevant Key Numbers
    Topic Lists in Print Digests

Browsing the Topic Hierarchy
• Use the alphabetical Digest Topics list           at the
  beginning of each print digest            volume as a
  table of contents.

• Check the key numbers under the                  topics
  that seem most relevant.
    West’s Analysis of American Law
Browsing the Topic Hierarchy
  West’s Analysis of American Law lists all the topics
  and the specific key numbers with the title given to
  each key number.
  Constitutional Law TOPIC NO. 92
        90.1– Particular Expressions and Limitations
           (1.2) Election Regulations
 Descriptive Word Index
• When classifying points of law and
  assigning to key numbers, West
  attorney-editors choose words that
  describe the important facts and legal

• These fact and issue words are
  arranged alphabetically in the
  Descriptive Word Index volumes of
  the digest.

• The Descriptive Word Index refers
  you to relevant topic and key
              Descriptive Word Index
• Ask, “What words describe the pertinent facts of the
  case or legal question involved?”

• Most descriptive words fall into one of five categories
  of elements common to every case:
   – Parties or facts
   – Places and things
   – Issue or basis of action
   – Defenses
   – Relief sought
                  Descriptive Word Index
• Example: John Landlord failed to replace a light bulb in the
  hallway of one of his apartment buildings. Jane Tenant failed to
  see a step and fell down a flight of stairs. She is suing John for

• You might start by checking in the index under landlord, tenant,
  apartment, common area, or premise liability. At least one of
  these entries will probably lead you to key numbers assigned to
  headnotes in cases that discuss the same or similar issues.
    Secondary Sources’ Library References in Print and on Westlaw

    Reference to a constitutional     Reference to relevant constitutional
 law key number for an Am Jur® 2d          key numbers in an ALR®
(American Jurisprudence) section on        (American Law Reports)
             Westlaw.                        article on Westlaw.
    Using a Known Key Number in Print Digests

• Go to a print digest covering the appropriate
  jurisdiction and find the volume containing the topic.

• The digest paragraphs are arranged in numerical
  order under the topic.

• All headnotes (digest paragraphs) from all cases
  discussing the point of law assigned to that key
  number are listed along with citations to the
  originating cases.
    Using a Known Key Number in a Westlaw Search

      If you know the key number before you sign on to Westlaw:

•     chose either a case law or a headnote (digest) database,
•     enter the key number as your Terms and Connectors query:
•     The “k” makes the term unique. You will retrieve only
      documents containing the key number.
•     You can require that certain words be in the same paragraph
      as the key number to customize your search:

                       92k90.1(1.2) /p speech
 New Feature – Key Number Search
• Use the “Key Numbers” link on the top of the screen to
  access the Key Number Search feature.
• Enter in your key words, select a jurisdiction, and the
  system will return suggested Key Numbers for you to
• Click on the Key Number you want, and the system
  will run a Custom Digest search for you.

  – Students love this new feature!
 Search on Westlaw
• In case law databases, key numbers and headnotes
  appear before the text of the case in the order the
  legal issues are discussed in the case, just as in the
  print reporters.

• In the headnote (digest) databases, the key numbers
  and headnotes are organized by topic, then by key
  number, just as in the print digests.
                    Search on Westlaw
If you don’t know either the topic or the key number

   – in a headnote database (NY-HN, ALLCASES-HN), enter a Terms
     and Connectors query or a digest field search:
                   campaign! /p contribut! /p speech

   – in a case law database (NY-CS, ALLCASES), restrict your query to
     the digest field (di):
                    di(campaign /p contribut! /p speech)

            Start out by keeping all terms in the same paragraph.
 The West Topic and Key Number System
• Allows you to quickly find all (including the most current) cases
  that discuss a legal issue

• Allows you to quickly determine the merits of your clients’ cases
  based on how prior cases dealing with the same issue have been

• Allows you to move among reporters, digests, the ALR and
  AmJur publications and statutes using cross-referenced relevant
  key numbers
         The Key Number System is the index to American
                     common- law issues.
  The National Reporter System, the West editorial
 enhancements, the West Key Number System, and
    West’s Key Number Digests are an integrated
research system that guides you to prior cases in any
state or federal jurisdiction that discussed similar facts
                     or points of law.
Thank You…
  We hope that you have found this lesson helpful.

If you have more Westlaw education or training needs,
    please contact your Academic Account Manager or
    call the Reference Attorneys at 1-800-WESTLAW.

If you have feedback on the Instructional Aids Series,
              please contact Erin Jensen.

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