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Scholarly Legal Research

Where to Start? - Cases and Court Documents

Court documents for high profile, or federal level cases tend to be readily available through our legal databases or government websites. The results for lower court documents tend to be more sporadic.  Each state differs in the scope of court documents that it makes available.  Try Westlaw and Lexis first before conducting Google searches.  If the legal databases AND the Internet do not produce results, please get in touch with a librarian.  Your court documents may be found on PACER or we may have to contact a state archive or library to obtain electronic copies.

Option 1 - Check Lexis, Westlaw, or Fastcase.

Option 2 - Is it available Online?  Check State or Federal court website.

Option 3 - Determine the court or local archive that houses court documents.  Contact them directly or seek help from a librarian.

Court Documents in Westlaw and Lexis

Both Lexis and Westlaw house cases, briefs, trial court documents, transcripts and oral arguments, and dockets.  You may limit to searching these materials by using the links on the Lexis and Westlaw homepages respectively.  It's important to gather as much citation information as possible to locate your case.  Docket numbers, case numbers, party names, and dates are essential in the finding process.

Both databases offer selected court filings.  The only way to determine whether the document you are seeking will be there is to conduct a search.  Trial court-level filings are limited to cases with heavily-litigated topics, High-value cases, Cases with jury verdicts or settlements.

State Court Systems

Each state court search engine is different.  You may begin your search by locating the website for the appropriate court.  It helps to have as much citation information for your case as possible.  Docket number and party names are key to finding documents related to your case.

Supreme Court

What about PACER?

You may come across links to PACER through your research.  Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) is an electronic public access service that allows users to obtain case and docket information online from federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts, and the PACER Case Locator. PACER is provided by the Federal Judiciary in keeping with its commitment to providing public access to court information via a centralized service.  

The library does have a PACER subscription, but fees accrue per search in this resource.  Librarians are happy to conduct PACER searches for you if court filing cannot be located elsewhere.  Please feel free to ask a librarian.

Ravel Law