Finding Case Law Without a Computer

You might encounter three situations when attempting to search for case law (these also apply when the case you're looking for is too old to be available online):

  • Do you know what jurisdiction the case is from, or the date of decision?
  • If yes to jurisdiction, go to the appropriate digest and look in the Table of Cases volume for the cite (there are regional, state, and federal digests). If you have a date but no jurisdiction, you can use the Decennial Digest, which contains state and federal cases in volumes set up in ten or five year increments. If your case has been decided after the last volume of the Decennial Digest, you will have to consult the General Digest.
  • If you have the correct cite, go to the proper volume of the reporter containing your case. If the cite is wrong, check the table of cases of the volume in your hand for the case name (assuming you have that information).
  • The other situation is when you have a correct cite, but you just don't know what the cite means. You can check The Bluebook or Bieber's Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations. If you have the correct jurisdiction of the case, a state digest may help. You may also have a "nominative reporter," or the title that corresponds to the name of the person recording and/or reporting the cases. This may take the form of 3 Smith 34, or 6 Jones 56. Ohio has a few nominative reporters, such as Disneys Reports or Handys Reports. You may have to check a few digests if the name of the reporter is common. You may also run into cites that are from Canadian or English cases. You will then have to figure out the jurisdiction, if not known, then go to the case finding tables of the appropriate foreign jurisdiction. You could also have a cite to a state reporter that the library doesn't have. You can use the National Reporter Blue Book's tables to convert the state cite to a regional reporter cite.

All of the digests mentioned above are set up by subject. Other resources to utilize are American Jurisprudence 2nd, Corpus Juris Secundum, American Law Reports (1st - 5th and Federal), subject-specific treatises, and any of the state-specific legal encyclopedias such as Ohio Jurisprudence 3d.