Shepardizing in the United States


Shepardizing is an important (and, usually, last) step in legal research.

The difficulty in finding applicable legal decisions and the even greater difficulty in exploring cases’ subsequent treatment during the Early Republic period led directly to the creation of the first citator, an early precursor to Shepard’s Citations. (See Patti Ogden, “Mastering the Lawless Science of Our Law”: A Story of Legal Citation Indexes, 85 Law Libr. J. 1, 2-7 (1993)).

Comprehensive topical case research was made possible later in the Nineteenth Century with the advent of the more comprehensive Shepard’s Citations and the national reporter and digest system of John B. West (and some other reporters from other vendors).

Shepard’s was a publisher (now part of LexisNexis) that publishes a series of books called Shepard’s Citations. The books contain lists of citations. By looking up a given citation in the Shepard’s service you can find citations to all the cases (and selected other materials) that reference the original citation. The process of looking up these citations is known as “Shepardizing.”

Shepard’s reports were particularly used for determining if a case is still good law. The editors include “signals” that tell you if a case has been overturned, questioned, etc.

Once upon a time, people Shepardized using books. You can still do this if you have the books available, though fewer and fewer libraries stock them. However, Shepardizing online is easier, faster, more accurate and more up-to-date. You Shepardize online through, through Get & Print (if you know the citation) or through BriefCheck (which pulls the citations from Word documents).

Free (Poor Man’s) “Shepards”

in 2006, Hilyerd wrote that, in “some circles an even lower cost alternative is mentioned for checking to see if a particular opinion is still part of the law of a jurisdiction. This method is known as the ‘poor man’s Shepard’s.’ It consists of using free case law databases such as
LexisOne to determine if the courts in a jurisdiction are still relying on a particular opinion in their newer opinions. This is done by using the name of the opinion the researcher wishes to check as a search term in the database and seeing if new opinions can be located. While this method is available, it is very sloppy research and should only be used if no access is available to other methods.” (Hilyerd, W.A. Education Law Research: Using the Law Library: A Guide for
Educators. Part VI: Working With Judicial Opinions and Other Primary Sources.
35 Journal of Law & Education 67 January 2006.)

Legal Materials

KeyCite on Westlaw – Westlaw offers an alternative citator called KeyCite. KeyCite is a usefully souped-up version of Shepard’s that groups your results by the extent to which they discuss your case.

For a comparison of Shepard’s and KeyCite, see Tobe Liebert’s New Shepard’s v. KeyCite: How Do We Compare? (1999), William L. Taylor’s “Comparing KeyCite and Shepard’s for Completeness, Currency and Accuracy,” 92(2) Law Library Journal 127 (Spring 2000), Diane Murley’s Comparison of Features of Shepard’s on LexisNexis and KeyCite on Westlaw (2006), The Case for Curation: The Relevance of Digest and Citator Results in Westlaw and Lexis (2012) and the New Jersey Law Librarians Association’s Three citators: a brief test (2011).

BCite on Bloomberg Law – Bloomberg Law released a citator called BCIT in 2008 that was renamed “BCite” in 2011. BCite compared unfavorably to Shepard’s and KeyCite in a test discussed in the NJLLA LIB-LOG blog (see Three citators: a brief test).

Makeshift citators – LOIS, Fastcase and Google Scholar each allow you to automatically locate other cases in their database that cite to your case. While these are not comprehensive citators, they do make it easy to find additional cases at no charge.

See Also

Case Pulls
Federal Cases
State Cases

Shepardizing: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Shepardizing. This part provides references, in relation to Shepardizing, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Shepardizing by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Shepardizing and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Shepardizing or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Shepardizing and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Shepardizing. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Shepardizing should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Shepardizing when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

*This resource guide is updated frequently. However, if you notice something is wrong or not working, or any resources that should be added, please notify us in any of the "Leave a Comment" area.

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