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Oklahoma Legal Research: Cases in Print - Digests & Key Numbers


Digests are finding tools organized by topic and key number that help researchers find case law. Although still in existence, researchers use print digests less often given the availability of online databases such as Westlaw, Lexis, GoogleScholar, and others.

State digests contain citations from individual state courts while regional digests correspond to regional reporters and contain case citations from multiple states or regions. Oklahoma decisions are compiled in the Oklahoma Digest (available in the Law Library) and the Pacific Digest.

Related LibGuide:

Searching the Digest

Digests provide access to case law in multiple ways, as set forth below. Once a topic and Key Number is located, these are used to locate applicable cases in the digest.

  • Descriptive Word Index: organized by subject; a topic and Key Number is assigned to each subject
  • Table of Cases: look up the case name in the "Table of Cases" located at the end of each multi-volume set; a list of the topics and Key Numbers from the headnotes of the case will follow
  • Key Numbers: Resources 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
  • Words and Phrases: 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
  • Browsing: Go to the topic at the beginning of each volume and browse subjects included 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.

Important Concepts

Headnotes: Legal publishers add a number of editorial enhancements to case decisions they publish.Editors read the decisions as they come in and identify the important topics and points of law. They then write brief summaries of these important points and assign topics to the summaries. The summaries appear before the text of the decisions and are called headnotes. Headnotes are available in Westlaw, and Lexis.

Key Number: West's publishers created a hierarchical subject index of the law found in West's Analysis of American Law. The index is divided into 450 topics. Within those topics are subtopics, and each of the subtopics has been assigned a Key Number. As cases are sent to the reporters, West's editors review the cases and write headnotes for each major point of law. The headnotes are assigned one of these Key Numbers and then reprinted in the digest according to their Key Number.

Updating using Print Digests

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. Shepardize or Keycite your cases.