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Legal Research: Finding Cases, Legislation, and other Legal Material

Court Structure of Texas

The Texas Court System is unusual because it has two ultimate appellate courts.

The Supreme Court of Texas is the ultimate appellate court for most civil and juvenile matters. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is the ultimate appellate court for criminal matters. Decisions and opinions for both high courts are published in West's South Western Reporter series.

Courts of Appeals of Texas are the intermediate courts that hear appeals in both civil and criminal matters from the trial courts. Decisions and opinions for courts of appeals are published in West's South Western Reporter series.

The trial courts consist of district courts, criminal district courts, constitutional county courts, statutory county courts at law, and probate courts. Trial courts do not usually issue opinions, and decisions are not usually published. Some counties do post their court dockets online. To find a list of courts, check the official court web portal: www.courts.state.tx.us

Finding Texas Cases in Print

Opinions of the Supreme Court of Texas, the Court of Criminal Appeals, and of the Texas Courts of Appeals are mostly published in the regional reporter series, West's South Western Reporter (1886-present).

[NOTE: Some reports prior to 1962 might also have been published in the official Texas Reports (1846-1962) and the official Texas Criminal Reports (1846-1962). According to the Texas Greenbook citation rules, these official reporters should be cited instead if the case appears in it.] 

South Western Reporter: Texas Cases

South Western Reporter currently consists of 3 different series: South Western Reporter, South 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. 

To find a case in South Western Reporter:

  1. Locate the correct series (South Western, South Western 2d, South Western 3d)
  2. Locate the correct volume (the first number in your citation).
  3. Locate the page where the report begins (the last part of the citation).

Finding Local Court Cases

Although most district courts do not publish their opinions, some court websites do post their dockets online. Some district clerks may also make records available to some degree online. 

Finding Texas Cases: Electronic Access

Electronic Access

Texas cases are also accessible online. 

Full annotated versions of state and federal cases can be found in the legal database Westlaw, available to students registered in the Paralegal program.

WestlawWestlaw

Legal database for searching cases, legislation, and secondary material. (NOTE: Access limited to current LSC paralegal students).

 

Finding Cases in Westlaw: Step by Step

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

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 search box with Jurisdiction circled

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

Westlaw Jurisdiction box

  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 search results for keyword search for arson

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

screenshot of the tabs for a case report in Westlaw

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

 

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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).

Westlaw

Only currently registered Lone Star paralegal students can access Westlaw. Current paralegal students will receive an email to their MyLoneStar student email from Thomson Reuters with details on how to activate their personal account. For problems with this, please contact the Paralegal department.

Westlaw Guides