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Case Law: Using the Digest

Searching the Digest

Digests provide access to case law by:

  • subject using the Descriptive Word Index,
  • case name from the Table of Cases
  • Key Numbers
  • Words and Phrases
  • browsing

Case Name

If you already have one case that is on point look the case up in "Table of Cases" located at the end of each multi-volume set. Next to the case name you will find a list of the topics and key numbers from the head-notes assigned to that case.

Digest's Table of Cases

Words and Phrases

The Words and Phrases section alphabetically lists words or phrases that have been judicially defined in the cases indexed by the Digest, and sets out the headnotes, titles, and citations of the cases in which such definitions appear.

Words and Phrases Example


Known Key Number

Resource such as A.L.R., Am Jur 2d, C.J.S., West's annotated statutes, and a number of other secondary sources provide references to relevant topic and Key Numbers. Researchers can use the listed topic and key number to find cases on point.

Descriptive Word Index

Use the factual situation to determine specific terms that best describe the legal situation you are researching.  Next, look the terms up in the Descriptive Word Index located at the end of each digest set. Once you find your term you will see the topic and Key Number assigned to your search term.  

Next, look up the topic and Key Number in the bound volumes of the digest.  Look at the spine of the multi-volume set first for your topic, then look for the Key Number range for your Key Number. Remember that your topic may fall alphabetically between the topics listed on the spine. After you select the correct volume find your topic and Key Number in the text.



Go to the topic at the beginning of each volume and browse subjects index included. Browse the topics until you locate the topic you want. For example, if you know your issue is a habeas corpus issue, you can select the volume on habeas corpus and browse the index until you identify the specific terms you need.




1. Check the years of coverage of the bound digest volumes. Earlier digest series are supplemented by later digest series. Current digests are supplemented by pocket parts and pamphlets.

2. When you are using a current series of a digest be sure to check your topic(s) and key number(s) in the pocket part as well as the bound volume. If there is no pocket part, look instead for a free-standing pamphlet that updates that particular volume.

3. Look for supplementary pamphlets at the end of the digest set that update the annual pocket parts for the entire digest set. If you find some, check the appropriate topic(s) and key number(s).

4. Check the "Closing with Cases Reported in" section at the front of the most recent pocket part or pamphlet used so far. Find the West case reporter that likely to have cases on your digest topic

5. Go to the case reporter that you identified in step 4. Look in the digest sections in the back of all bound volumes and the front of all advance sheets beginning with the volume number listed in the "Closing with Cases Reported in" section of the digest to see if any recent cases have appeared under your topic(s) and key number(s).

6. Don’t forget to Shepardize or Keycite your cases.