Fastcase - A Brief Guide: Case Law
What is Fastcase?
Fastcase is a searchable database of federal and state legal authorities including:
- Case law
- Court rules
All of the collections are fully searchable by keyword, citation, and natural language.
NOTE: Fastcase is only accessible from the Law Library research computers located on the 2nd, 4th, and 6th floors. Students also have access using their UBIT log-in on personal devices while on campus only.
Printing and Saving Documents
Save and Print
From the document page, click the "Print/Save" link in the top-right of the menu bar.
From the print/save page, you can choose to download the document as a .DOCX, .DOC, or .PDF file. Click Print/Save, and a download dialog box will open allowing you to choose where you want the document saved. The document can be saved on your UBIT network drive or an external flash drive connected to the computer.
NOTE: Printing is only available for current UB students, so non-student users will have to either save the document to a flash drive or send it to themselves via email.
Users can also email the documents to themselves by clicking the "Email" link in the top-right of the menu bar. The documents are included in the text of the email, not as attachments. If you want the document as a separate file, follow the save and print instructions above and send yourself the downloaded file.
If you have any questions regarding Fastcase or run into research problems, please consult a librarian in person at the reference desk, at (716) 645-2047, or via email at email@example.com.
Click on the HELP pull-down menu for:
- User Guides - Click on "Documentation and Downloads" for print user guides
- Tutorials - Click on "Video Tutorials" to see short how-to videos
- FAQs - Click on "Frequently Asked Questions" to see a list of FAQs organized by category
Research Tips from Fastcase
The Fastcase Blog
Searching Case Law
From the Fastcase homepage, select "Advanced Caselaw Search" from the left panel. Once there, you can choose to search cases by keyword, natural language, or citation.
Searching by Citation
Each case has a specific citation indicating its location in a given reporter volume. Because case citations are unique, it is the fastest and simplest way to locate a specific case when searching. Citations typically have the following three-part structure:
504 U.S. 555
[Volume #] [Reporter Abbreviation] [Page #]
Example: The above citation points to the case in volume 504 of U.S. Reports beginning at page 555.
Searching by Keywords
Keyword searching allows you to search for all of the cases that contain certain terms or subjects. Keyword searches on Fastcase use Boolean operators similar to other databases, which are displayed below the search box at the Advanced Search screen.
Example: "freedom of speech" AND education - searches the text for the terms in the desired jurisdictions
If you have questions about keywords or Boolean operators, please ask a Reference Librarian for help.
Searching by Case Name
To search for a case by name, use the keyword search function. Type the name of the case in quotation marks as the search term, select the jurisdiction in the box below, and click search.
Example: "Regents of University of California v. Bakke"
Note: Case name searching alone often returns many related results that are not the case itself. If you are unable to locate the desired case, looking for the citations to the desired case in other returned cases will allow you to do a more precise citation search.
Searching with Natural Language
Use this option if you don't have exact search terms. Type in words that describe what you are looking for, and the most relevant results will be retrieved, even if they do not contain your search words.
Structure of Cases
Court decisions contain three main sections: the heading, syllabus, and the opinion.
The heading of a case contains the citations to the case, the names of the parties, the court of decision, and the date of decision. Here is an example heading:
Some court decisions contain a syllabus before the opinion. The syllabus contains useful information such as the prior history of a case, some background facts, and an outline of the court's holding. This is a summary written by the court to help readers better understand the decision, it is not an expression of law and should not be cited as such.
The opinion of the court outlines its legally binding decision and begins where the Justice's name (or multiple Justices' names) appears. The opinion typically contains detailed facts about the case, the court's holding, and the reasoning for its decision. The opinion represents either the decision of a single judge or, if there is a panel, the majority of judges. In cases of a panel of judges, oftentimes one will be selected to be the author on behalf of the majority.
There may also be concurring or dissenting opinions following the majority opinion. These opinions are authored by judges that either agree with the majority for different reasons or disagree with the majority's decision. While not binding law, these opinions are frequently cited as persuasive authority and add an extra layer of analysis to a decision.
Finding Similar Cases
Fastcase's "Authority Check" system tracks citations to cases. It allows users to view a list or time line of cases that cite to the original case. When a case has been cited, it is a good indicator that the citing decision concerns a similar issue to the original.
To view the citations of a case in Fastcase, click on the hyperlinked numbers in the Authority Check panel in the toolbar on top of the page.
Law Review Articles
Authority Check also lists law review articles that cite to the case available on HeinOnline. Articles that cite to or analyze cases can give additional background information, context, or analysis of cases and issues. The links open a PDF copy of the article in Fastcase and allow you to download and save the file to your network drive or flash drive.
Note: While Authority Check does indicate negative treatment of cases using its Bad Law Bot. It is not a replacement for other citators (such as Shepard's or KeyCite) in identfying overturned decisions. Shepard's and KeyCite are available for public use at the Supreme Court Library on 77 W. Eagle St. in Buffalo. Here is a link to the Supreme Court Library's website: http://nycourts.gov/library/buffalo/index.shtml.