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 Lexis.com, 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.)
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.