How can I find case law for a particular subject in my state (Massachusetts)?

I have access to Lexis/Nexis, but my experience is that subject searches rarely work. For example, one topic I need to research is the case law on illegible citations. I received a moving violation and the charge was written illegibly. I did a search on Lexis using the keywords:

MA citation illegible

and it returned no results. I tried many other logical combinations of words, but they invariably returned no hits.

If you know a case citation then Lexis is fine, but how can I find the relevant cases in the first place?

  • Have you tried other related keywords, such as "improper" or the like?
    – phoog
    Jun 10, 2016 at 2:29

1 Answer 1


My experience has been that finding case law is a bit hit and miss (pun intended). The most effective method that I have found is to start with the conceptually broadest search, and narrow it down by further sub-searches. There are 7 findable MA cases pertaining to "traffic citation" (Lexis search seems to be non-stupid in terms of grammatically relates forms like the plural "citations"). "Traffic citation" gives a large set of cases, then you can select teh MA specific cases on the left side (or, check-box the jurisdiction under advanced search). Then you can apply further terms to that subset in the "search within results" box. I find it generally best to start with general concepts and narrow them down subsequently. Within reason: "crime" will give over 1000 citations and it seems to give up if there are more than 1000 citations. This, at any rate, is based on my experience with freeby academic Lexis, which ain't the most powerful tool in the drawer.

  • That is exactly what I started doing, but it was tedious because I got a lot of irrelevant hits and you have to start going through dozens of cases to try to find out whether they are relevant or not. Moreover, you have no idea whether the broad search is missing the actual cases that you need.
    – Cicero
    Jun 10, 2016 at 12:15
  • @cicero welcome to Law. You might also want to try WestLaw.
    – Colyn1337
    Jun 10, 2016 at 21:43

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