How to Shepardize on Westlaw

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The term Shepardize means the process of checking a case's prior precedents. The term comes from the citation service called Shepard's, which up until the late 1990s was the only real game in town. Then Westlaw quit using Shepard's, Shepard's went to Lexis (Westlaw's main competitor), and Westlaw launched KeyCite. The use of KeyCite on Westlaw is the equivalent to Shepardizing a citation using Shepard's on Lexis. By using KeyCite, you can easily determine if your case is still "good law."

KeyCite Your Citation

Step 1

Log on to Westlaw. Enter your citation in the "Find citation" box and click "Go." Note the headnote numbers in your case, which contain the ruling or statement of law on which you wish to rely.

Step 2

Click on the "C," which will appear in the upper left hand corner of the case.

Step 3

Review the citation references, looking for any negative history, which should be indicated by a yellow or red flag on the case and will be segregated from the positive cases by a heading.

Step 4

Examine any cases that are cited as overruling your case. Check the substance of the overruling decision: many times there are several issues in one opinion, and the case may still be "good law" as to your issue.

Step 5

Examine any cases which "declined to follow" your case. Here again, the ruling the new case declined to follow may not be pertinent. If the new case declined to follow your case on your issue, determine if there are facts sufficient to distinguish the new case from your case.

Warnings

  • Never rely solely on the headnote descriptions of a case. The headnotes are added by the publisher, not the court. Every so often, a headnote states the exact opposite of the ruling contained in the case.
  • Be careful not to exceed your plan; out-of-plan charges on Westlaw add up quickly.
  • Shepard's is a service provided by Lexis.
  • The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only, and cannot take the place of legal advice from a licensed attorney. It may or may not reflect current events or changes in the law. Be wary of Unlicensed Practice of Law (UPL): it is a crime in most states. Your state Bar should be able to provide you with free information regarding UPL either on the web or by mail on request. The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely upon advertisements. Before you decide, ask any prospective attorney to send you free written information about their qualifications and experience.

Tips

  • KeyCite has several great features. You can "follow" a particular key number located under the headnotes, such that whenever a new case is reported under that key number, you are notified. You can also see your case history in graph form, and the annotations as to each citing reference usually tell you which headnotes in your case are mentioned in the new case.