What are Law Reports?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2019
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Law reports are records on court proceedings, serving as official additions to case law in a given nation or region. They consist of compilations of judicial opinions. Some are official, published by government agencies charged with maintaining records of case law. Others are unofficial and produced by private companies interested in marketing research products to attorneys. Unofficial records usually come with extra features like indexes to justify the often high cost.

Historically, law reports have been compiled by an official reporter, prepared for binding, and periodically released. People can purchase records for individual courts and attorneys use these records for research. Looking at older judicial opinions can provide important information about how to present a case in court, including what kinds of arguments to use in the promotion of one side or the other. Judicial precedent can also be important, as attorneys arguing from an unusual position want to show some basis for that argument.


Unofficial law reports are usually indexed and organized differently to make them easier to use and access. In addition, many companies have transitioned to putting their resources online or on electronic media like discs. Using computerized databasing allows for ease of searching, as attorneys can simply enter keywords and pull up relevant materials, and it also makes updating very easy. Access to law reports provided by private firms can be expensive, with people paying a subscription fee to enter the system and usually being allocated a set number of log-ins to accommodate an attorney and supporting staff, or members of a firm.

Many courts also began publishing opinions online in the 2000s, in effect creating competition for unofficial producers of records. When courts publish information online for free, people can easily access it, search it, and use it in research. They may not have a compelling need to buy a subscription product if the court's records meet their needs. In response, some firms began adding services like access to legal librarians to assist with research to encourage their customers to stay loyal.

People accessing law reports can find a wealth of information. In addition to being useful for people preparing cases, it can also be valuable from a historical perspective. Historians are often interested in how social attitudes were reflected in the courts, and reading through opinions on high profile cases or cases touching on topics of interest, like civil rights, can provide interesting information on how people thought historically about various social issues.



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