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LGLA 1303 -- Print v. Electronic Legal Research

Compares steps for conducting legal research in print to searching electronically in a legal database.

Library Print Collection Closed


The LSC-North Harris physical library book collection, including the Legal Reference Collection, is unavailable until further notice while repairs are being made to the Library building. Library Services are available in the Learning Center, ACAD 200.

How to Read a Case Citation

To find a case in a print reporter series or in a print citator, you must have a citation. The citation tells you where to find the case in the series. 

How to Read a Case Citation: First Number=Volume Number, Middle Number=Name of the reporter series including the edition, Last number=page number where the report starts

A citation will also help you find the exact document quickly when searching a legal database like Westlaw or a free online legal research site.

Searching the Texas Digest to Find Cases on a Topic

Texas Digest shelves

Searching the Texas Digest in Print for Case Citations

One way to find a case citation is to look up case abstracts by topic using a digest series like Texas Digest

The digest series has two main parts: the Descriptive Word Index and the main volumes with the abstracts. The topics are broken down into key numbers, which narrow broad topics down to very specific points of law.

Texas Digest Descriptive Word Index

Step 1: Locate the Descriptive Word Index

The Descriptive Word Index is used to locate your topic and give you a key number that you can use to find your topic in the rest of the digest volumes.

Search for your topic or keyword in the Descriptive Word Index volumes, shelved near the end of the series. Words appear in the Index alphabetically. For example, if you are looking for "arson," you would use the Descriptive Word Index A-C volume. 

Texas Digest Descriptive Word Index page showing headings for Arson

Step 2: Locate your term in the Index

Within the index, use the words at the top corners of the page to find your term.

NOTE: Your term may not always appear in a corner, but it can fall alphabetically between the corner words.

Texas Digest Descriptive Word Index heading for Arson

Step 3: Find the section for your topic

On the page, locate the bold heading. 

Under the heading for your topic, you should see a list of the descriptive words for your selected topic.

Write down the descriptive words and key numbers that are relevant to your research.

Texas Digest volumes with a red box around the volume for arson

Step 4: Locate the volume that includes your key number

Go back to the shelves and use the spines of the books to find the volume that includes that the key number that you are looking for. 

For example, Arson Key 27

Texas Digest volume on arson open to key 27

Step 5: Find the key in the volume

Using the key number, find the heading within the volume. The section will include abstracts and citations for cases on the topic.

Example: Arson key 27 has several cases listed that have citations for South Western Reporter


Texas Digest volume open to pocket part

Step 6: Check for Updates

Since the bound volumes are only as up to date as the date they were printed, it is critical to check for updates. The Texas Digest uses annual supplements to update its content. Most of the time, these appear as pocket parts at the back of the volume. When a pocket part becomes too big to fit in the pocket, it will come as a separate paperback supplement shelved right after the volume.

Turn to the back of the volume to check for a pocket part.

Texas Digest pocket part showing updates

Step 7: Find your key in the Pocket Part

Check the pocket part for your key number to see if any new cases are listed for that topic.

Texas Cases : South Western Reporter

South Western Reporter: Texas Cases

South Western Reporter currently consists of 3 different series: South Western ReporterSouth Western Reporter 2d, and South Western Reporter 3d. These are not series or editions in the sense of replacements but rather they keep building over time. Reporters are published in chronological order with the newest cases published in the latest volumes. When South Western reaches volume number 999, they simply start over at 1 with a new edition. The entire South Western Reporter is available full-text online in Westlaw.

South Western 3d Texas CasesPrint Edition Location:

Legal Reference Collection

KFT 1257 .W478 (2D)

KFT 1257 .W4782 (3D)

PLEASE NOTE: The print series available in the Library is no longer being updated and is for Teaching Purposes Only. For the latest information, see Westlaw.

Federal Cases

Supreme Court Cases

Opinions of the United States Supreme Court are published in three different reporter series: the government issued, official reporter, United States Reports, and two unofficial, commercial reporters: Supreme Court Reporter (owned by Thomson Reuters West) and United States Supreme Court Reports: Lawyer's Edition (owned by Lexis). When the same report appears in different reporter series, the citations for the case are called "parallel citations." 


Court of Appeals and District Court Cases

Opinions of the United States Courts of Appeals are published in West's Federal Reporter series, and opinions of the United States District Courts are published in West's Federal Supplement.


Special Courts

Specialized courts often have their own reporter series. 

Examples of specialized reporters include West's Bankruptcy Reporter for bankruptcy courts and West's Military Justice Reporter for cases from U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces and military courts of criminal appeals.

The official reporter of the United States Tax Courts, published by the U.S. government, is the Reports of the U.S. Tax Court (T.C). Another source for federal tax cases is U.S. Tax Cases, published by CCH, which includes federal tax cases from the district and appellate courts.

Finding Cases in Print

South Western Reporter 3d Shelves

Searching for Texas Cases in South Western Reporter in Print

Case reports are published in reporters in chronological order. To find a case report in print, you need to know it's citation. The citation tells you: the name of the reporter series that it was published in, the volume that contains the report, and the page number where the case starts.

Explanation of a case citation

Step 1: Find the Case Citation and Identify the Reporter

Using your case citation, determine which reporter series to locate. The abbreviation for the reporter appears in the middle of the citation.

S.W. 3d = South Western Reporter, 3rd series


South Western Reporter 3D volumes

Step 2: Locate the volume in the reporter series.

Using the first number in your citation, locate the volume on the shelf.

Example: 329 S.W.3d 104  would be found in volume 329 of the South Western Reporter 3d

example of a case in SW3d

Step 3: Locate the case in the volume

The last number in a case citation gives the page number where the report starts. 

Example: 329 S.W.3d 104 starts on page 104

Reporters publish cases in chronologic order, so there are no updates or supplements to check.

Finding Cases in Westlaw

Full, annotated versions of state and federal cases can be found on Westlaw

(click on images to view larger)

To search for a case on Westlaw:

  1. From the Westlaw homepage, use the main search box to search for your case. Click on the space next to the orange magnifying glass to narrow the Jurisdiction for your search.

Westlaw Edge screenshot of search box with a circle around the jurisdiction box

  1. For Texas, narrow your Jurisdiction to Texas and 5th Circuit.

Westlaw Edge screenshot of Jurisdiction selection box with "Texas," "5th Circuit," and "Related Federal" checked

  1. You can search by citation, by party names, or by keywords
  2. Searching by a citation will bring you straight to the report for that case. Searching by party names or keywords will bring you to a search results page. Click on the name of a case to bring up the case report.

Westlaw Edge screenshot of search results of cases for keyword "arson"

  1. On Westlaw, you will see more annotations including Headnotes and tabs for Negative TreatmentHistory, and Citing References

Westlaw Edge screenshot of top of case report showing tabs for document, history, citing references, negative treatment

Negative Treatment = Lists all cases that have had a negative impact on the ruling of the case that you are viewing. Negative Treatment is also indicated by Flags in front of the case name.

Red flag = The case is no longer good for at least one point of law. It was reversed or overruled

Yellow flag = The case has some negative treatment but it has not been reversed or overruled

History = Displays the case's history as it moved through the courts

Citing References = Provides a list of all cases or other documents that have cited your case since it was published


Unpublished Opinions

Most court opinions go unpublished, with only about 20% of U.S. Court of Appeals case opinions and a minute percentage of U.S. district court opinions published. Unpublished opinions are those not accepted for publication in the reporter series, because they are either too recent or the publishers felt they were not of enough significance.

While not in reporters, these opinions may still appear in legal databases like Lexis and Westlaw or be accessible on courts' websites or through docket services.

For more information, see Spencer L. Simons, Texas Legal Research 61-64 (Revised ed. 2012).