Skip to Main Content

Legal Research Tips for Your Summer Work: I Already Have A Case, Statute, or Regulation

Starting with a Case, Statute, or Regulation

Were you provided with a case, statute, or regulation citation as part of your assignment? If so, you have a great starting point for your research. On this page, you will see an overview of beginning your research with a case, statute, or regulation citation to locate secondary sources to aid your understanding of the law and find more primary sources.


If you have any questions, reach out to a reference librarian for assistance by:



Video Tutorials

The Maloney Library maintains an extensive collection of video tutorials on many of the topics covered in this guide. 

Video Tutorials

Starting with a Case Citation

Whether you are provided with a citation to a case, or find a citation in a secondary source or annotated code, your first step should be to read the case to ensure that the case is relevant to your issue(s) (completing the preliminary analysis will help with this assessment). Once you have a case that is relevant you can use a series of finding tools to find additional relevant cases - this is called the One Good Case Method or, as I like to call it, the Good Enough Case Method.

You are likely to run the One Good Case Method on multiple cases. Why? Because there is rarely a perfect court opinion that exactly matches our issues. Your job is to take similar cases, analogize them to your issue, and argue those similar cases should apply. Let's look at the finding tools used in the One Good Case Method (videos: Lexis, Westlaw).


Headnotes are the legal principles from the case as identified by editors, and they can help us find other cases with the same legal principles. They allow us to look both backward and forwards in time for cases. Headnotes are secondary materials, and we do not cite them.  

Key Numbers

In Westlaw, Headnotes are usually assigned at least one key number. The key numbers create a giant, granular outline of legal principles found in case law. Using key numbers, we can find cases that discuss the same legal principle, not only in our jurisdiction but in other jurisdictions. They also allow us to look at other related cases regardless of whether the case was decided before our one good case or after and to find cases that do not cite to our one good case.

Citing References or CItators

Citators are tools that collect materials that cite back to a case for any reason. For the purposes of the One Good Case Method, we use citators to identify other cases that cite back to our case for a legal principle from a headnote. In other words, cases that were decided after our one good case and rely on our one case for some purpose.

Table of Authorities

The Table of Authorities is a listing of all the cases cited in our good case. This allows us to look backward at older precedents that may include seminal cases or cases with similar facts as our legal issue. The easiest method for determining if these cases will assist your research is to read your good case and review the cases cited by the court to support their opinion.

Starting with a Statute or Regulation Citation

Whether you are provided with a citation to a statute or regulation, or find a citation in a secondary source your, first step should be to review the statute or regulation in an annotated code. 

What is an annotated code?

An annotated code provides citations to cases that have construed the statutory or regulatory language, collects secondary sources that discuss the statute or regulation and relevant cases, and citations to regulations that are promulgated under the authority of the statute or regulation, or are otherwise related.

Why should I use an annotated code?

Essentially, the annotated code gathers multiple types of legal materials that will help you understand the law in a single place where you can start your research. This means you do not need to run keyword searches once you have a citation to a statute or regulations.

Where to find annotated codes?

Annotated codes are created by publishers using the official statutory language and then an editorial team links and cross-references related cases, secondary sources, regulations.

Because a publisher is involved, most annotated codes are only available on paid databases. The most prominent federal statutory and regulatory codes are on Lexis and Westlaw. Annotated state statutory codes are available on both Lexis and Westlaw. The availability of annotated state regulatory codes varies and Lexis and/or Westlaw may have annotated state regulatory codes. 

How do I use an annotated code?

In Westlaw, the annotated code is encapsulated in the tabs across the top of the page.

In Lexis, the annotated code is encapsulated to the left of the statutory or regulatory language.