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Case Law Research FAQs Searching Opinions

FAQ's Main Table of Contents FAQ TOC 


Case Law Research:  Searching Opinions


General Access and Usage

How do I search by citation?

To search for an opinion when you have the citation, first select the appropriate library and then enter the citation with the exact punctuation in the search query box.

Example: to find World Wide Volkswagen, Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 100 S. Ct. 559 (1980), choose the U.S. Supreme Court from the Library selection page and then enter the following in the Search Query box:

444 u.s. 286

For this type of search, it is important to use the same format as the citation, including spaces and punctuation. This search will retrieve the opinion cited (as long as the database contains the official citation on the opinion) and will also retrieve other opinions that cited to the opinion. Thus, you have the ability to follow the opinion’s subsequent history.

You can also use the V.Cite citation search tool; it offers a quick and easy method for searching by citation. By entering the citation in the search form, you can determine the validity of the cited case, as well as review opinions examining similar issues. The search can be further narrowed by appending a search term to the citation search.

If the search does not retrieve the opinion, you can easily run another search by entering the name of one of the parties, the WITHIN search operator, and the name of another party.

      Example: volkswagen w/7 woodson

You can use a date range to limit your results; simply enter 01/01/1980 as the “From” date and 01/01/1981 as the “To” date in Step 3 Date Range.

Regarding citations for our opinions, at the moment, not all of our cases online have the official citations attached to them, however, we are currently in the process of retrofitting all of our databases to include the official citations. Thus, some of our cases actually do have the official cites, in fact, most do. But until we are finished with that project, you may very well pull up a case that has our own unique electronic citation but not the official citation. Of course, this is also true of recent cases that don't yet have official (or parallel) citations.

Electronic citations, such as ours, were first approved for use by the 16th edition of the Bluebook and reinforced with the recent release of the 17th edition. As an example, here is the correct citation form for our citation for Miranda v. Arizona):

        Miranda v. Arizona, 1966.SCT.1467, (S. Ct. June 13, 1966) (

When you use our citation system it's like using the CCH system; i.e., you need to cite to the paragraph. So if you wanted to cite to paragraph 35 of the Miranda case you would use this system:

        Miranda v. Arizona, 1966.SCT.1467, 35 (S. Ct. June 13, 1966) (

We know, of course, that a lot of jurisdictions still do not accept electronic citations. If you do need the official citation there are a few things you can do to find it. First you can run a search based on the parties' names, such as:

        united farm bureau w/7 owen

That will usually pull up cases that have cited to original opinion and will include the official citation. Of course, the opinion may never have been cited (which is what happens with the United Farm Bureau opinion). If so you can try At that web site you would choose "Shepard's" and then click on the "pay per cite" option Don't worry, you won't have to pay for anything unless you actually Shepardize an opinion. Follow the instructions regarding entering parties' names to obtain the citation information.

Another thing to try is to call the West Searchers (a service of West Group), at 1-651-687-7740. This is not a toll-free number, but the service is free. You can give them the parties' names and they'll tell you the citation, or you can give a citation and they'll give you the names.

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How do I search by party name?

To search for an opinion when you have the names of the parties, you should use the WITHIN search operator. It is best to designate a number that will accommodate case names in which several names or descriptive terms may be listed.

Example: If you want to find a recent Florida opinion and you know that one of the plaintiffs was Lawrence Acheson and one of the defendants was Coastal Towing, you should select Florida from the State Appellate page, and enter the following search in the Search Query box

        acheson w/12 coastal towing

This search will return the following opinion


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Why don't you have internal page numbers?

You may have heard that a decision in the Second Circuit said that West couldn't copyright its page numbers, so you’re wondering when we are going to add them to our opinions. Right? Well, you heard right.  Without dragging out a bushel of legal-speak, suffice to say that the 2nd Circuit opinion (Hyperlaw v. West) did indicate that putting page numbers into cases isn't something that meets the standard for copyright protection.

OK, so we can start adding West page numbers as fast as our little hands can turn pages, right? Well, not so fast. We're looking at two issues that are slowing us down: a) we're not located within the jurisdiction of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. While we're not particularly risk averse, we also note that most pedestrians that are hit by cars were standing in the crosswalk at the time. (This little simile is supposed to illustrate that while we might be legally correct in putting the page numbers in, the cost of defending a suit in our Circuit might wipe the smile right off our faces.); and b) contrary to popular opinion, putting page numbers into an existing database isn't a Herculean task – it's much bigger than that. The real issue here is (b), but we can't ignore the crosswalk contingency, either.

The page numbers themselves aren't as critical as they seem.

In most instances what the court requires is that your brief contain the citation (official or parallel) to the case you are citing. And we have most of those. But the rule doesn't normally require page number references. In fact, a growing number of courts allow public domain citations and paragraph numbers to be used instead of page numbers.

All of that notwithstanding, we are beginning to add official page numbers from the various jurisdictions that have official reporters. West, however, is a private publisher with its own citation and page number system if we were to license their system, our prices would have to increase to accommodate the licensing agreement.

Finally, our citation form is an acceptable citation as per the current Bluebook. See "The Bluebook, A Uniform System of Citation, Seventeenth Edition"; Index Page 388, "VersusLaw." See also pages 130, 131.

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Do you have state statutes? provides links to searchable (for the most part) state statutes. Simply select position your mouse over the Search menu on the navigation bar at the top and when the drop down menu appears select Codes/Statutes command.

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How can I easily find my search terms in an opinion?

When you open an opinion from the hit list, you can quickly jump to the portion of the opinion in which your search terms are discussed.  The quickest way to do this is the click the First Hit button.  The Next Hit button takes you to subsequent search terms within the opinion.   

By using the “Find” function of your browser you can jump right to other words within the opinion. (Typically you will click the Edit menu and select the Find command or from the keyboard Crtl+F.)  The “Find” function should appear under one of the pull-down menus in your browser’s Tool Bar. After selecting “Find”, just enter one of your search terms in the dialog box and submit; the browser will take you directly to that term within the document.

Note: if you have used the OR search operator in your search query, you may need to use the “Find” function for each of the search terms connected by the OR search operator.

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How do I cite to opinions from your site? carries its own unique citation system on every opinion, including paragraph numbering. While also carries official and parallel citations, we must go through the same lengthy process as other publishers in both acquiring these citations and maintaining them in our databases.

In its 17th Edition of the Bluebook (2000), however, the Harvard Law Review Association has taken an important step to ensure the "citability" of opinions found in online databases. Section 18.1, page 130, of the 17th Edition relates to citing cases reported on Commercial Electronic Databases. In Section 18.1.1, the Bluebook states: "Provide the case name, docket number, database identifier, court name, and full date of the most recent major disposition of the case. The database identifier must contain enough information for a reader to identify the database and find the case. If the database has identifying codes or numbers that uniquely identify the case . . ., these must be given. Screen or page numbers, if assigned, should be preceded by an asterisk; paragraph numbers, if assigned should be preceded by a paragraph symbol." The Bluebook then provides several examples, including:

Staats v. Brown, No. 65681-9, 2000.WA.0042007, ¶ 25 (Wash. Jan. 6, 2000) (VersusLaw).

Our citation system, ParaCite, has been in use since 1995. It assigns a unique number to each opinion, and then numbers the paragraphs in each opinion.

For the Bluebook example, the ParaCite citation convention is:

  1. Year of the opinion: 2000
  2. Library of opinion: Washington (the two-character ZIP Code designator is used for states. The abbreviation for federal circuit courts start with "C" for "circuit" and then indicate the court: C07 indicates Seventh Circuit, CDC indicates D.C. Circuit, and CFC indicates the Federal Circuit. The U.S. Supreme Court is abbreviated SCT.)
  3. Unique opinion number: 0042007
  4. Pinpoint citation: paragraph 25
  5. Internet address:

This citation convention allows a user to easily locate the database on the Internet and obtain the cited opinion.

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Why did I get "0 cases found" when I did a search?

If your search was unsuccessful, first go back and re-select the jurisdiction(s) you want to search in (or make the selection if you forgot to do it the first time). Then re-check the date range. Finally, take a look at the wording. Is everything spelled right? Is it clear? If all of that was correct, perhaps your search was too narrow. Expand your search parameters and re-submit your request. For help with expanding your search, review the Reference Manual, Search Demo, Search Operator Grid and Search Operator Comparison Grid. If all else fails, e-mail your search to our Customer Service team; or you can give us a call at 865-397-7900 between 8a.m. and 5p.m. Eastern Time.

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Is there a manual to help me with searching problems?

Our Research Manual gives you a detailed overview of searching on You may print or download it for easy reference later.

Other useful tools include our, Search Demo, which illustrates the step-by-step instructions for opinion searching. Additionally, consult the Search Operator Grid and Search Operator Comparison Grid for researching tips. 

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Where can I get the latest version of Internet Explorer?

If you are seeing a lot of error messages, and you are using an older browser, you may need to update your browser. You can download the latest version of Internet Explorer from

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Why should I clear the cache in my browser and how is it done?

If you are seeing a lot of error messages, you may need to clear the browser’s cache. Depending on how your browser is set, each time you visit a website, the browser may save that web page in a cache file on your computer’s hard drive. When you direct your browser to revisit a website, it looks in the hard drive first. If an earlier version was stored there, the page you see is old. That doesn't matter on websites that do not change their pages very often. But with, a site that is updated several times each day, a page that is loaded from the cache will not be current.

Instructions for clearing the cache are in the browser’s reference manual. We have included the instructions for some of the most common browsers:

AOL 5.0

  1. Go to Start button in lower left hand corner of your screen
  2. Go to Settings and then to Control Panel
  3. Click on Internet Options Icon
  4. General Tab, click on Delete files button, check Delete all offline content, click OK
  5. Click on Settings button, click View Files button
  6. Go to Edit and click Select All
  7. Go to File and click on Delete and then close the box and click on OK
  8. Click on Clear History button and then click OK

Internet Explorer 5.0

  1. Under the Tools menu, choose Internet Options
  2. General Tab, click Delete Files button, check Delete All Offline Content, click OK
  3. Click Settings button, click View Files button. Go to Edit and click Select All
  4. Go to File and click Delete and then close the box and click OK
  5. Click Clear History button and then click OK

Internet Explorer 4.0

  1. Under the View menu, choose Internet Options
  2. Choose the General Tab
  3. Click on the Delete Files button, check the Delete All Subscription Content, click OK
  4. Click on the Clear History button, then click YES
  5. Then click OK to close the Options window

Netscape 6.0

  1. Click on the Edit Menu
  2. Select Preferences
  3. Navigator category, click History, then click Clear History button
  4. Click on the bullet next to the Advanced category, click Cache
  5. Click Clear Memory Cache, click Clear Disk Cache, then click OK

Netscape 4.0

  1. Click on the Edit Menu
  2. Select Preferences
  3. Navigator category, click on Clear History button, click OK
  4. Go to the Advanced category, click on + then click on Cache
  5. Click on Clear Memory Cache button, click OK, click on Clear Disk Cache, OK, OK

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Why does it take so long to run a search?

Many factors can affect the system's speed. The speed of your modem, the amount of traffic on the Internet or with your Internet Service Provider (ISP), as well as the number of users currently accessing all impact your speed. If you're using a major Internet provider like America Online, CompuServe or Prodigy, it is not unusual to have "heavy traffic" which can create a traffic jam on the Internet. Try accessing at non-peak times or you may consider accessing via a local Internet Service Provider, which in many situations is significantly faster than coming in through one of the major online services.

If you can't stand it anymore, then take a deep breath and call us. We'll see if there is something more you need to do or something we can do to make things move more quickly for you.

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I can't remember my Login and/or Password.

Enter your e-mail address or username and we'll immediately send your login and password to you.

E-mail address:  

Or if you'd like to change either your login or password, just give us a call at 865-397-7900 between the hours of 8a.m. and 5p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. We'll take it from there. Or send e-mail to Customer Service with your request, and we'll get back to you on the next business day with a new login and password.

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Do you have security measures for credit card transactions?

If you are concerned about using your credit card on the Internet, let us put your fears to rest:

1) utilizes a state-of-the-art secure transaction site, and 2) we will warrant any credit card transaction you make on our system against fraud or theft.

If you are still worried that your credit card is zipping willy-nilly through cyberspace, just call our Customer Service Department 865-397-7900 to speak directly to a human.

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What is a "cookie" and what does it mean to me?

Each time you make a request in the password-protected areas of our site (opinion libraries), a small file ("cookie") is created. This cookie is used only during your stay on our site to maintain information concerning your registration status – it validates that you are a legitimate and registered user but it does not contain either your login, password or e-mail address. We do not collect any information from your computer and only use the cookie to authenticate your registration. The data is erased when you close your browser.

Your browser may be set to give you a warning dialog box in advance of accepting a cookie. Because of the design of our system, if you choose not to accept a cookie, your username and password will not be validated and you will not be able to use the site.

Below are instructions for setting your browser to accept cookies:

AOL 5.0

  1. Go to Start button in lower left hand corner of your screen.
  2. Go to Settings and then to Control Panel.
  3. Click on Internet Options Icon. Click on Security Tab. Click Custom Level button. Scroll down to Cookies. Wording will be: Allow cookies that are stored on your computer; be sure Enable is checked. Then Allow per-session cookies (not stored); be sure Enable is checked.
  4. Then click OK and click OK again and close out of box.

Internet Explorer 6

Go to Tools and click Internet Options. Click the Privacy tab. Click Edit button and type in click allow, they will also want to add your site. Then click ok, ok again.

Netscape 7

Go to Edit and click on Preferences. Under the Privacy & Security category, click Cookies. Click on Enable all cookies. Make sure the Limit maximum lifetime of cookies to: Current Session is checked. Click Ok.

NOTE:Once this has been done, it is best to close out of the Internet and come back in.

Internet Explorer 5.0

  1. Go to Tools and click Internet Options of your browser. Click the Security tab. Click Custom Level button.
  2. Scroll to Cookies: Be sure Enable is checked for Allow Cookies that are stored on your computer and Allow per-session cookies (not stored).
  3. Click OK and click OK again.

Netscape 6.0

  1. Go to Edit and click on Preferences.
  2. Click on the bullet next to the word Advanced, click on Cookies.
  3. Click on Enable all cookies.
  4. Click on View Stored Cookies. Click on Remove all cookies, click OK, click OK.

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I would like to use your service. What do I need to do?

To access court opinions and statutes, you will need to become a subscriber. Our rates are deliberately designed to be affordable. We offer unlimited access for a flat fee. There are no hidden charges for downloading or printing, and no surcharges for accessing any of our libraries. And best of all, no ticking meter, so stay as long as you want. You can pay directly online with a credit card, or you can call our Customer Service Department at 865-397-7900. We accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Pricing info or  Subscribe now.

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How much does it cost to use your site?

Our basic pricing structure is based on a flat rate per attorney in the firm; that's per attorney in the firm. That rate is as low as $49.95/month/attorney in the firm.  See our pricing information page for more details on pricing and subscription plans.

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How do I download and print a case?


As you know, when you download a document you are saving a copy of it in a file on your hard (or floppy) drive so that you can work with the file later, perhaps in a word processing program. You might download if you want to “cut and paste” large portions of the opinion, change its look, or have it available for later viewing.

To "save" a document, pull down the Browser’s File menu and select “Save As” or “Save As File.” Your Browser will then allow you to select from various formatting options, e.g., *.html or *.txt. Choose the option that gives you the best results. This may depend, in turn, on your word processing platform.


There are two ways to print a document from our site: 1. Printing directly from the screen, or 2. Printing once you have saved the document to your hard drive.

To print a document from the screen, use your browser's Print command under the File menu. Depending on your browser settings, this will print it as you see it on the screen.

Alternately, if you’d like some formatting options, once you have saved a document to your hard drive, you may open it with your word processing program and print as you would any other document. To save the file to your hard drive, use the Save As function in your browser under the File menu. Change the name of the file from "fastweb.exe" to the name of the case or something that will make sense to you; also change the File Type to "Text (.txt)". Then, after you're done with your research session, you can open your word processing program and open the saved file. Once the file is open, you can reformat it as to margins, font size, columns, etc.

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How can I Shepardize®?


Shepardize® is a trademarked term, much like Seran Wrap®.  So you can't Shepardize® on  You can Shepardize® on citations, products and services available from the company holding the trademark.


However, the good news is that you can approximate the same result on with V.Cite, our new citation search tool. Additionally, the following example demonstrates a work-around doing it the old-fashioned way.

First, allow us to explain that the vast majority of court opinions carried on contain a formal or parallel citation. However, some of the opinions do not yet have these citations associated with the opinion. That having been said, the first search to run in this situation is a search for the citation. Take care to have the correct citation; the search engine is very good, but it cannot detect typographical errors.

1. Search for the opinion by its formal citation: 491 U.S. 1

This search will retrieve Pennsylvania v. Union Gas, 491. U.S. 1 (S. Ct. 1989), and all opinions that have cited to it.

2. When the hitlist appears, use the “Find” function under the Edit menu of your browser to jump to the opinion on the list that includes the citation. Enter the citation "491 U.S. 1" in the dialog box that appears when you select Edit, Find.

3. The other opinions on the hitlist are opinions in which Pennsylvania v. Union Gas has been cited. You can open these opinions and again use the “Find” function to jump directly to the discussion of Union Gas within the opinion.

Because some of the opinions on this site do not yet have the formal or parallel citation added, a search for the citation may retrieve opinions that have cited to the opinion you want, but will not retrieve the actual opinion. In this situation, you will need to run a search for the party names by following these steps:

1. Search for the opinion using the names of the parties (as they appear in the formal citation for the case) and the "within" search operator:

Pennsylvania w/10 Union Gas

This search will retrieve “Pennsylvania v. Union Gas” or “Union Gas v. Pennsylvania” and all opinions that have cited to them.

2. When the hitlist appears, open one of the opinions retrieved.

3. When you have the opinion open, use the "Find" function under the Edit menu of your browser, entering one of the party names in the dialog box:

Find: Pennsylvania

The browser will jump to the point in the opinion where "Pennsylvania" appears. HINT: Use "Find next" to see every instance in which "Pennsylvania" is cited in the opinion. For Premium and Professional Plan users, use the First Hit and Next Hit buttons.

You can obtain more specific results by adding terms to your search.

(Pennsylvania w/10 Union Gas) w/10 (overrul* or revers* or modif*)

Repeat step 3 using the "Find" function of your browser to find one of the terms from your search query.

The new citation checking tool, V.Cite, is available. By entering the citation in the V.Cite form, you can determine the validity of the cited case, as well as review opinions examining similar issues. The search can be further narrowed by appending a search term to the citation search. 

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From what courts do you have opinions? carries opinions from the U.S. Supreme Court, all the Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals and all the states' higher courts of appeal. To review the complete list including dates of coverage, please see our Court Coverage page.

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 What is your policy regarding customer privacy issues? has an ironclad policy about maintaining the confidentiality of its customers. We do not sell the names or any other information about our customers to any outside individual or organization. Please review our Privacy Statement for more details.

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What is V.Cite?
The new citation tool, V.Cite, offers users the ability to perform the two functions of classic citation tools: 1) determine the validity of cited cases, and 2) identify other cases examining similar issues. 

1) Performing a V.Cite search will produce a list of all cases (within your selected jurisdictions) that have cited your case. Simply review the opinions in the list to see if the case has been affected in a negative way. 

2) The list that a V.Cite search produces will include cases that have cited your initial case, which will most likely discuss similar issues. You can further focus your research by using the added V.Cite feature that allows you to append a specific term to your search request. For example, if you include the word “damages” in the “additional query information” section of the V.Cite form, the search will be restricted to those cases that have cited your case and also discuss "damages".

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