Law Basics: Information Regarding Citators and Computerized Research

United States laws are continually changing more or less on a daily basis all over the nation.  Case law is founded on the concept – idea or basis, of stare decisis, and courts do occasionally overrule and modify prior case law to meet the needs of justice in our ever-changing society.

Statutory law may also undergo changes. Statutes are often amended and repealed or given new interpretations by the courts. Research is never complete until you have verified that your authorities are still “good law.”  “Good law” refers to law this is still valid and can therefore be used as a citation.  The determining factor is if an authority is good law, which requires the use of special research materials.

Cases in the case reporter do not tell you if the case was overruled and/or criticized in later cases. Better information is found in published codes, but they are not completely up-to-date. Most contain pocket part supplements, these supplements are only replaced once a year.  Research material used to update and/or validate legal authorities is known as citors.  The most familiar of which is Shepard’s Citations. Citors are research materials that are used to validate legal authority.

Shepardizing is to check a legal citation using a Shepard’s citation.  The legal citation you are Shepardizing is called the cited authority. Shepard’s is the most commonly used source to check case law, but it is also used to check other authorities such as constitutions, statutory law, administrative regulations,  selected law review articles, court rules, and jury instructions. Cases are arranged first by the reporter and series at the top of the page, then numerically by volume and page number of the case.

Shepardizing provides two means of information regarding a case:  The history of a case (published background), and treatment of the case (citations to other authorities mentioning your case).  Shepard’s relies very heavily on abbreviations.  The cited and citing references are abbreviated in a way only unique to Shepard’s. When you are Shepardizing, it involves checking all references including:

  1. Main Citator;
  2. Culmative supplement;
  3. Annual or semiannual supplement; and
  4. White pamphlet-type supplements called Advance Sheets.

Using Shepard’s supplements in print is good, but you are still missing recent case decisions. Therefore, Shepard’s has a “Daily Update” service, which provides one with information that is no more than 24 – 48 hours old.  The service may be accessed via the Internet, through fax, or by telephone.  Shepard’s is available via LexisNexis.

KeyCite is available at Westlaw.  Shepard’s is not available via Westlaw.  This means that researchers must use KeyCite to validate legal authorities if using Westlaw. An added feature in KeyCite that is not available when using Shepard’s is an evaluation. The evaluation is reflective of the number of “depth of treatment stars” assigned to each of the citing cases.  This enables the researcher to note if the cited case was merely mentioned in the citing authority or whether it was discussed and/or analyzed in detail.  

A legal researcher or paralegal must verify the following before a case can be filed:

  1. Citation format;
  2. Citation accuracy;
  3. Validity of authority;
  4. Accuracy of authority;
  5. Citation of quotation; and
  6. Accuracy of quotations.

Using online services such as Westlaw or LexisNexis does make cite-checking a memorandum much easier and quicker than the conventional methods. Both cites provide downloadable software to automate much of the cite checking processes.

There are also many Web sites that employ similar features and methods such as:

  1. Menus;
  2. Templates;
  3. Search boxes; and
  4. Table of Contents.

Many of these sites contain multiple types of legal material to search through.  Most of these sites provide templates, which make it much easier to search under and perform your research. There are a couple ways to search.  The first course of action is that you must enter what is known as a query. There are two ways to do this.  One is using BOOLEAN logic, often called terms and connectors such as “and” – “or” et al. and the second is by using a question in normal question format.  Using a “natural language search”, will allow the computer program to convert your question into BOOLEAN language. It is imperative to remember that Westlaw and LexisNexis are fee-based services that charge you for the time you spend on their service.

One of the most well-known and respected commercial sites is FindLaw.  This site provides access to federal and state constitutions, codes, and administrative rules and regulations.

One must note that regardless of whether you use Westlaw or LexisNexis these two sites affords the researcher access to the annotated constitutions, codes, and regulations.  Case Law contains case summaries and headnotes.  You will not find this at FindLaw.

Last, but not least, is the abundance of information to be gleaned that is so important to note that Shepard’s, Westlaw provides a service called KeyCite to check the validity of legal sources. KeyCite is similar to Shepard’s in the information provided – in that context the information does not change.

Now you know why the paralegals make so much less money even though they do all the work for the attorneys. All paralegal’s hard work is used by attornies to take your hard work so they may make the big dollars. Who said life was ever fair?


Hames, J.B., Ekern, Y. (2012). Legal Research, Analysis, and Writing. Fourth Edition. Chapters 9 and 10. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall

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