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Case Law Research -- West Digest System  

Last Updated: Jul 23, 2013 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Introduction Print Page

CALI Lesson on Using Digests

Select "How to Find Case Law Using Digests" under 1L - First Year Lesson Topics. 


What is a digest?

A digest is an index to cases.  A digest is a case-finding tool that provides case citations and summaries of cases discussing legal points.    

West digests arrange their points of law case summaries by a topic (subject) and key numbers classification system.   

The West digests' Descriptive Word Indexes lead researchers to Topics and Key Numbers.  In West digests the topic and key number for Constitutional Law 1021 look like the example below.  

Constitutional Law  1021

The topic above is constitutional law.  The key number, 1021, represents "Equal Protection."  West gathered points of law concerning equal protection under the 1021 label.   

West topics and key numbers are the same in each West digest. 

Because West digests and West reporters work in tandem with each other, topics and key numbers appear in West reporters in the headnotes of cases.   

A Headnote consists of a headnote number, a topic and key number, a summary of a point of law, and sometimes a statute, court rule, or regulation citation.  

The headnote number corresponds with numbered sections of the case where the headnote's point of law is discussed.  


Overview of the West National Reporter System

West Publishing Company Created the National Reporter System

Thomson West, still widely known as West Publishing Company, created its National Reporter System in 1879.  West steadily became the dominant and consistent reporter of published appellate court decisions.  West asked each appellate judge and federal trial court judge to give them decisions the judges deemed worthy of publication.  Later West expanded its reporter coverage to include a few individual states and special courts.  West provided timely, consistent, and comprehensive publication of state and federal appellate decisions and decisions for special federal courts as well.  

National Reporter System

West publications of the three categories listed below comprise the National Reporter System.  Some West reporters are in second and third series.  Pacific Reporter 3d is an example of a reporter in its third series. 

West publishes print decisions of state courts in regional reporters and a few state reporters in addition to its Westlaw coverage of the same. 

  • Atlantic Reporter:  CT, DE, ME, MD, NH, MD, PA, RI, VT, and DC.  1885 to date.    
  • California Reporter:  CA Sup. Ct., Courts of Appeal and Appellate Department of the Superior Court.  1959 to date.
  • Illinois Decisions:  All IL state appellate courts.  1976 to date.  West publishes an Illinois state digest.
  • New York Supplement  NY Court of Appeals decisions are also published in the North Eastern Reporter.  1888 to date.  
  • North Eastern Reporter:  IL, IN, MA, NY and OH.  1885 to date.
  • North Western Reporter:  IO, MI, MN, NE, SD, and WI.  1879 to date.
  • Pacific Reporter:  AK, AZ, CA to 1960, CA Sup. Ct. since 1960, CO, HI, ID, KS, MT, NV, NM, OK, OR, UT, WA, and WY.  1883 to date.
  • South Eastern Reporter:  GA, NC, SC, VA, and WV.  1887 to date.  
  • South Western Reporter:  AR, KY, MO, TN, and TX.  1886 to date.  Includes Arkansas.  Arkansas ceased publication of its official reporter, Arkansas Reports with volume 375. 
  • Southern Reporter:  AL, FL, LA, and MS.  1887 to date.

West publishes print decisions of federal courts in addition to its Westlaw and WestNext coverage:

  • Supreme Court Reporter
  • Federal Reporter (U.S. Courts of Appeals)
  • Federal Rules Decisions
  • Federal Supplement, U.S. District Courts (federal trial courts)

West publishes print decisions of special federal courts in addition to its Westlaw coverage:

  • Bankruptcy Reporter
  • Military Justice Reporter
  • Federal Claims Reporter
  • Veterans Appeals Reporter

West's Classification System:  Topics and Key Numbers

  • West uses Topics and Key Numbers in their digests and reporters.
  • Topics and Key Numbers appear in West's headnotes.  Headnotes are editorial enhancements that appear after the synopsis in a West reporter.
  • Headnotes contain a topic and key number as well as summary of the point of law discussed in a case. Headnotes are numbered.
  • West headnotes are copyrighted; they only appear in West reporters in online and print versions (Westlaw, WestNext, and reporters).


Subject Guide

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Kathryn Fitzhugh

Regional Reporters Map

Here's a link to West's regional reporters map.


West Reporters on the Shelf


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