How to Locate and Research Court Cases Online

By Cayden Conor

Most states do not archive local court cases online, but do put appellate cases there. If you are a lawyer and need case law to support your case, you need to know what district you are in and try to get court cases from your appellate district. Other districts in your state are acceptable, but judges are more likely to follow cases decided in your district.

How to Locate and Research Court Cases Online

Search for the link for your appellate district. For example, Hillsborough County, Fla., is in the Second DCA (District Court of Appeals). Once you get the link, click through to the website.

Look for a link to the online dockets. This will give you a list of all pleadings filed.Look for a link to “archived opinions” to get a list of cases that were recently decided. Depending on what state and district you are in, there may be quite a few years' worth of cases accessible online, or there may be cases from the current year only.

Use pay-per-access sites, such as Westlaw or Lexis. While these sites are expensive, they allow you to search multiple districts at one time. They also allow you "shepardize" your findings. Shepardizing your findings will tell you if the case law is still good case law, of if another ruling overturned that case. If the case is overturned, it is no longer good law. You will need to keep searching until you find cases that fit your particular case.Take note of any bad law you find. Opposing counsel will use these cases against you to win their argument.

Google keywords pertaining to your case. You may find a site where someone has published a copy of the case you need. While these cases should not be used as found, they will give you a case name and number, which can be searched on Westlaw or the local appellate site. This gives you an excellent place to start your research, as it is keyword-driven.