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Features - GlobalCite: Is it a Third Citator?

By Tobe Leibert, Published on March 1, 2001

Tobe Liebert is Director of Public Services at the Tarlton Law Library at the University of Texas at Austin.


Citator services have undergone a revolution the past few years, due mainly to the healthy effects of competition. Westlaw's KeyCite service, launched in the Fall of 1997, introduced the first real alternative to the Shepard's citation system. Since that time, both KeyCite and Shepard's have steadily added features and functions in an effort to stay ahead of each other. LLRX has published several articles discussing this development.[1]

LoisLaw (http://www.loislaw.com) entered the fray early in 2000 with its "GlobalCite" service, promoting it as a “citation research service.” Indeed, on the GlobalCite information page on LoisLaw, the service is described as being: "… competitive with Lexis-Nexis' Shepard's and West's KeyCite." Now that a year has passed, it is fair to take a critical look at GlobalCite and ask whether it should be thought of as a true citator. My belief is that while GlobalCite is a worthwhile add-on to the features offered by LoisLaw, it cannot be classified as a citator, as the term is now understood.[2] Given its limitations, I doubt that practitioners would forego using Shepard's or KeyCite when it comes time to verify whether a case is still "good law." In this sense, it is not "competitive" with either of these products.

What is it?

GlobalCite is software that, at no extra cost, runs a search across all Loislaw databases to identify where your case (or statute) has been cited. I will concentrate primarily on using GlobalCite with cases, since this is the most common use for citators. Using GlobalCite is simple:

(1) find your case;

(2) click on the GlobalCite link (which appears at the bottom of the page);

(3) GlobalCite will then run a search across all LoisLaw databases (not just the ones you subscribe to), and generates a list of any cases citing your case.

A GlobalCite result provides the following:

This image below shows the appearance of a typical GlobalCite result:

There are really no "options" to GlobalCite, when compared to the numerous (and sometimes complicated) ways in which Shepard's and KeyCite can be manipulated. Viewed in a positive light, it takes no time at all to learn how to use it.

Doing a GlobalCite search on a case

The obvious shortcoming of GlobalCite, when held up as being "competitive" with Shepard's and KeyCite, is that it contains no editorial analysis. The GlobalCite search is performed purely by software, checking for references to your case in other documents. If you are interested in knowing if a case is still "good law," the user will have to read through each citing reference, a real impossibility if a case has been cited frequently.

I first tested GlobalCite by "GlobalCiting” the U.S. Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona. This search returned references to 16,570 documents. If you wanted to locate just cases criticizing the decision, that would be impossible with this number of hits. However, running Miranda through KeyCite allows the user to quickly find a string of cases with the designation "declined to extend" and "limitation of holding recognized by." Similarly, Shepardizing Miranda connects the user quickly to numerous decisions distinguishing and criticizing Miranda.

Next, I looked at the case of General Motors Corp. v. Simmons, 558 S.W.2d 855 (Tex. 1977), comparing it across KeyCite, Shepard’s and GlobalCite. This case was overruled by the later 1984 Texas case of Duncan v. Cessna Aircraft. Using KeyCite and Shepard’s, this negative treatment was immediately apparent. The GlobalCite search returned 53 documents, in strict chronological arrangement. When faced with this long list of citations, the researcher would have to plunge into the full-text of the cases to discover negative treatment. The Duncan case was there, but the negative treatment could not be discovered until you read the text of the decision.

For any case with more than just a few citing references, it is far too laborious to use GlobalCite for the purpose of discovering of whether a case is still good law.

Doing a GlobalCite search on a statute

I found GlobalCite to be more useful when researching statutes, as it essentially produces an annotated code. It is usually important to view the cases interpreting a statute and GlobalCite quickly gives the researcher the cases which have cited any particular statute. While this is certainly no more than what you would get with viewing an annotated code on Westlaw and Lexis, it is a nice feature for the lower cost LoisLaw service.

As an test, I found a Texas statute, Section 61.066 of the Texas Natural Resources Code. After pulling up the text of the statute on LoisLaw, I clicked on the GlobalCite button and two citing cases were pulled up. These were the same two cases that are referenced in the Texas annotated code produced by West (Vernon's Texas Codes Annotated). When used in this way, GlobalCite offers a nice, timesaving feature for LoisLaw users. Trouble would arise again, however, if a statute was cited numerous times. A West annotated code will offer subject headings within the list of citing cases to help the researcher zero-in on the most relevant cases.

I doubt if too many researchers use Shepard's or KeyCite as a way of checking to see if a statutory provision is still "good law." After all, statutory research will likely be done in an annotated code (either online or in print) that will already contain the current version of the code (i.e., the nature of the publication provides for regular updating that ensures that amendments, deletions and additions are accounted for). It should be noted that KeyCite has added a feature that provides the user with the cite to any pending Congressional bill that would affect a particular statute. This is a powerful tool for certain types of research. It is an example of the type of innovation that is possible with a true citation service.

Conclusion

I like GlobalCite when viewed as a quick, no-cost add-on to a search in LoisLaw. I do not like, however, any pretensions of being a competitor to either Shepard's or KeyCite. Surely no researcher would rely exclusively on GlobalCite to verify the viability of a case. After all, it is not just the reliability of Shepard's and KeyCite that make them essential, but also their ability to instantly pinpoint any negative treatment.

The limitations of GlobalCite demonstrate the fundamental differences between a low-cost legal database provider such as LoisLaw and the "full service" operation of Westlaw and Lexis. Certainly the LoisLaws and VersusLaws of the world are a welcome addition to the range of available resources we have, but they cannot compete on services such a citators, which are labor intensive. They fill a valuable role, but can go only so far. The fact that GlobalCite looks pretty much the same as it did when introduced a year ago points to the limitations. There is really not much room for it to grow or evolve without sinking a great deal of time and money into a system of editorial analysis.

The cost of entering the legal citator field is huge. KeyCite was able to emerge as a real competitor to Shepard's only because West was a very big company that was already looking at every case as it came out. This last point seems crucial. Both KeyCite and Shepard's emphasize that their systems are not built upon software alone, but also upon the work of experienced teams of human editors. It seems that the test of a citator's reliability is the fact that human eyes have read through each decision to gauge how it affects prior caselaw.

Given this reality, it seems highly unlikely that another company will (or could) attempt to build another general purpose citator. With the very recent purchase of LoisLaw by Wolters Kluwer, however, perhaps resources will be available to enhance the functions available through GlobalCite.



[1] See, "KeyCite Review," by Al Harrison; "New Shepard's v. KeyCite: How do we Compare?," by Tobe Liebert ; and "The Great Citator Debate," by Victoria Szymczak .

[2] In Black's Law Dictionary, 7th edition (1999), a very traditional definition of "citator" is offered: "A book or section of a book containing tables of cases or statutes that have been judicially cited in later cases." I think that any definition of citator should now take into account the revolution accomplished by moving Shepard's online and the creation of KeyCite