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Legal Research Guide: Primary Research

Primary Sources - Cases and Statutes

In legal research, cases and statutes are primary sources because they are the law. After doing some background research in secondary sources, you have probably identified a few key cases and/or statutes that relate to your legal issue. The sources below will help you locate these primary sources. Conversely, you might have already identified "one good case" on your legal issue and you want to use that to identify other relevant sources. These sources will help you with that strategy as well. 

Search for Cases - Federal and State


Shepardizing will show you the case's prior and subsequent history, as well as how and where it has been cited in both primary and secondary sources. This is a valuable tool, as it helps you make sure that your case is still good case law and helps you locate other relevant cases and documents.

How do you find it? When looking at a case in LexisNexis, you will see a small icon in the top left corner, such as a red stop sign, a yellow caution symbol, or a green square. When you click on that icon, it will take you into the "Shepard's Summary" for that case. 

Search for Statutes

Statutes are laws enacted by legislative bodies, including those of each of the fifty states or the U.S. Congress. These laws are found in the U.S. Code. The majority of the links below are to the United States Code (federal). To find state codes, use LexisNexis or locate the website of the particular state legislature. 

How to read a citation for a section of the U.S. Code:

Ex. 42 USC § 1981 -- 42 refers to the Title; § 1981 refers to the specific section within that title. 

You may also be able to locate a statute by its common name, such as "Americans with Disabilities Act." 

The United States Constitution

How to read a case number

At the top of any case, you will find the case number. There may be several different numbers assigned to a case, but usually you want the first set. Case numbers include the volume number, the court reporter (an actual print volume) the case appears in, and the page number. It may also include information about the court and year in which the case was tried. 


493 U.S. 146U.S. Reporter, Volume 493, page 146

127 S. Ct. 1769 = Supreme Court Reporter, Volume 127, page 1769

221 F.3d 410 (3d Cir. 2000) = Federal Reporter 3rd Series, Volume 221, page 410 (3rd Circuit Court, 2000)

290 F. Supp. 67 (D. Nev. 1967) = Federal Supplement, Volume 290, page 67 (District Court of Nevada, 1967)

Note: The U.S. Reporter and Supreme Court Reporter contain the same cases but have different publishers and thus contain different supplemental information. 

Common Abbreviations

F. Supp.
Federal Supplement

Federal Reporter

U.S. Reports

Supreme Court Reporter

U.S. Reports, Lawyers' Edition