Answered By: Robert Sebek
Last Updated: Aug 08, 2017     Views: 51

Legal documents: where to look


  • Fastcase: Look up a case by citation (130 S. Ct. 876 or 531 U.S. 1060) or by party (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission or Bush v. Gore). Punctuation does matter in citation lookups. U.S. is the abbreviation for United States Reports. 
  • Summon: You may be able to find the text of a case by typing the party names in a Summon search. Even if the case itself does not appear you may find a reference to the case citation in the text of a retrieved document.
  • PACER: Public Access to Court Electronic Records allows users to obtain case and docket information from federal appellate, district and bankruptcy courts.

Legal citations

  • Legal citations take the form of a number, an abbreviation, and a number. For court cases the first number is the volume where the case can be found in its official print version and the second number is the first page number of the case. For statutes the first number is the title and the second number is the section or part, usually written using the symbol § or §§ (multiple sections or parts). Examples: 11 CFR §100.29 or 2 U. S. C. §441
  • Legal abbreviations can be found in Black's Law Dictionary (KF156 B53 latest in Ref Room).
  • The same case or legal document may be written in a long string of letters and numbers, separated by semicolons. This is a parallel citation. The first abbreviation is usually the “official” citation. Example: 510 U.S. 1309; 114 S. Ct. 909; 127 L. Ed. 2d 352; 1994 U.S. LEXIS 1325; 62 U.S.L.W. 3520


  • Find federal regulations: in HeinOnline, ProQuest Congressional, FDSys .
  • The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is a codification of the general and permanent rules and regulations published originally in the Federal Register by executive departments and agencies of the federal government. 
  • State regulations can be found in Fastcase and on official state government sites. They are compiled in the administrative code of each state.
  • Virginia's regulations are codified in the Virginia Administrative Code.


  • The United States Code (USC) is the official compilation of federal laws (aka statutes). Because it is published every 6 years with annual supplements, the unofficial United States Code Annotated (USCA) is more up-to-date and more useful. It is located in the Ref Room (KF62 1927 U5x) and is updated by new bound volumes and pocket parts.
  • The Statutes at Large (Stat) is the annual compilation of laws passed by Congress and signed by the President, whose contents are codified in the USC and USCA. It is located in the Reference Room (KF50).
  • Find federal statutes in HeinOnline, ProQuest Congressional, FDSys.
  • State statutes can be found in Fastcase, ProQuest Congressional, and on official state government sites.
  • Virginia's statutes are codified in the Code of Virginia. The print version is located in the Ref Room

Westlaw or Fastcase?

Westlaw is available through 125 individual passwords that are assigned by the law librarian. Westlaw is used by faculty, graduate students, and in a few undergraduate classes. Undergraduate passwords are often shared. Westlaw is more suitable for advanced legal research. For most legal assignments, Fastcase is very adequate. Westlaw is contractually limited to VT users.

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