Features - One More Look at Shepard's Citation Service: A Private Law Librarian's Perspective

Robyn Rebollo is the Washington, D.C. and McLean, Virginia, Librarian for Greenberg & Traurig.  She also provides Internet consulting services to small retail companies in Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia.


There has been a great deal of analysis on citation services since Lexis released their new Shepard’s Citations Service in late March. I will try to provide an honest review of this product, while highlighting the features that are most important to private law firms and their research staff.

Navigational Features

Lexis has come a long way, especially on the web, in developing more user-friendly features. These visual features include identifiable click boxes for adding restrictions to a citation, and large buttons for choosing KWIC or FULL formats. Shepard’s signals appear at the top left of the page, indicating negative treatment (red stop sign), possible negative treatment (yellow triangle) and true positive treatment (green diamond with a plus sign). According to Lexis, only Shepard’s offers a green positive signal that indicates a case has been strengthened. The page design is easy to read, with options such as FOCUS and analyses restrictions, at both the top and bottom of the screen. I also like the neat layout of the citing references, organized by the highest court to the lowest, in reversed chronological order. These simple visual adjustments have been a saving grace for attorneys who are still not fully comfortable in conducting online research. The Shepard’s Citations Service provides the standard print/download features found on Lexis Nexis services, plus an email option. According to previous reviews in the Legal Times, there was some criticism that both Lexis and Westlaw charged fees for email deliveries. I am happy to announce there are no charges for printing or email deliveries of the actual report when using Shepards Citations Service.

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Reliable Results

New cases appear as citing references in Shepard’s essentially the same day Lexis places the case online. This is the result of the integration of Lexcite into the product. Shepard’s treatments are added to the Citations Service within 24-48 hours from the time they receive a case electronically. This means the editors at Shepard’s will have completed their editorial review, and if appropriate, any editorial analysis code will be attached to the citing reference. Complete KeyCite analysis usually takes up to five days, while direct online history is available 1 to 4 hours of receipt, and negative treatment is online by 72 hours. While the availability differences between KeyCite and Lexis may not be crucial for some practicing lawyers, it is a significant factor for private law firms that have a strong litigation practice. Large private law firms cannot afford to miss recent citing references that might support or hinder their arguments at trial.

Shepard’s coverage of case law includes cases from the beginning of our legal system. It also includes references to secondary sources that precede Lexis’ online holdings. Having access to these older references is due to Lexis’ exclusive rights of Shepard’s printed volumes. Once again, this might not seem like a huge factor for someone to choose Lexis over KeyCite. It is however, a significant factor for law firms that have a strong practice in the state of Virginia. Virginia’s judicial bodies place a great emphasis on the knowledge of older cases that have stood the course of time.

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Focus Search

The best feature of the new Shepard’s is the ability to use FOCUS when narrowing your citation results. The FOCUS command helps users pinpoint a particular issue of law by adding a search string to the full text of your citing references. After running your search string, the FOCUS feature will return a list of citations to cases that contain your terms.

You can review the full text of a citing reference by clicking on it. The case will have your FOCUS search terms highlighted. Please note, however, that you are charged each time that you view a citing reference. The cost is comparable to a LEXEE command, which is generally $5.00.

Custom Restrictions Form

In addition to FOCUS, Shepard’s created a Custom Restrictions Form to help users in narrowing their search results. You can select custom restrictions for analysis, jurisdiction, headnotes and date. The Custom Restrictions Form shows only those analyses and jurisdictions available for the citation being Shepardized. So don’t be surprised to see a limited amount of Federal and State jurisdictions when you choosing your restrictions. The headnotes restriction feature is a bit disappointing because it only provides headnote numbers for identification. Westlaw provides the West topic and key number system in their restriction options, which is very helpful.

Coverage of Citing References

Both Shepard’s and KeyCite include coverage of federal and state case law, tax case law, United States Patent Quarterly cases, law reviews, periodicals, annotated statutes and ALR annotations as citing references. It should be noted that Shepard’s has complete coverage of United State Patent Quarterly cases (1st, 2nd and to date), while KeyCite has no coverage of the first series, and incomplete coverage of the 2nd series. Other sources that Shepard’s covers exclusively include revenue rulings, revenue procedures, treasury decisions, private letter rulings and internal revenue bulletins.

Conclusions

I am impressed with Lexis’ efforts in providing new products that are easier to use and reliable for legal research. Both Lexis and Westlaw are working ardently to outdo one another in the citation research market, which leaves the legal researcher pondering what product to use. I suggest trying both over a period of time, and then select a service that you feel comfortable using. But never rule out one product over another. Always keep your options open. Extremely competent legal researchers never limit themselves, and neither should you!