Generally the court opinion databases are not a good place to start your research. There are just too many opinions.
Use them if:
- Looking for a known opinion but you don't have the citation
- Even then it helps to know the specific state or court and the date
- Looking for unique terminology
- Names of people, places, corporations
- Diseases and drugs
- Quoted material
Use the resources listed in the Researching a Legal Issue box (under Westlaw Campus Research tab) to focus your search or use statutes and cases already identified.
Orin S. Kerr, How to Read a Legal Opinion: A Guide for New Law Students, 11 Green Bag 51 (2007)
Elements of court opinions:
- Case law - The body of reported court opinions and recognition that courts "make law" with their opinions; generally statutes are changed or enacted to officially codify the "case law".
- Decision - A determination arrived at after consideration of the facts and the law; commonly used interchangeably with Judgment. Basically, what is the outcome which can be as simple as
- Conviction overturned
- Lower court affirmed
- Motion for costs granted
- Dicta/Dictum - statements, remarks, or observations of a judge expressed in the opinion
- Holding - the legal principle which can be drawn from the opinion
- Opinion - The court's statement of its decision in a particular cause of action, setting out the law applied to the case and detailing the reasons for the decision. This is the why of a decision.
- Judgment - final and official determination of the resolution of a dispute and rights of the parties; commonly used interchangeably with Decision
- Federal and State Cases Search
- Click the jurisdiction box (between the search bar and magnifying glass icon)
- Uncheck All Federal
- Check the particular court or courts you need
- Click Save