How to Shepardize a Case in Print

by Cindy Landau

Last Updated: 14 Oct 2008

NOTE: The Law Library subscribes only to the following print citators: N.H., Atlantic, Northeastern, and IP. Please use Shepard's on LexisNexis or KeyCite on Westlaw to validate cases.

As a legal researcher, you have an ethical duty to your client to perform competent and complete research. A vital step in that process is to validate every case to make sure the points of law in the case are still strong before you rely on it as an authority.

(**This is a simple overview of the Shepardizing process. For more in-depth instructions on Shepardizing, please consult a law librarian or a LexisNexis representative; consult a law librarian or a WESTLAW representative for information on Key Citing your case.**)

1. Obtain the correct citation for the case that you want to validate with Shepard’s Citations. You will also need the year that the case was decided.

2. Locate the correct set of Shepard Citations for the case that you want to Shepardize. For example, if your case is from the Atlantic Reporter, you will need to locate the set of Shepard Citations for the Atlantic Reporter.

3. Gather all of the volumes necessary to Shepardize your case. To determine which volumes are necessary, look at the cover of the most current softbound supplement for your set of Shepard’s. The books that you will need will be listed under “What Your Library Should Contain” on the cover of this supplement. You will need all of the books on this list dating back to the date of your case.

4. Look up your case by its citation in all of the necessary volumes; your cite may not appear in each volume. The reporter name can be found at the top of the page in the center, while the volume numbers are listed at the top of the page on the left and the individual page numbers are listed in order on each page.

5. Once you have found the initial page number of your case, you will see the case name and decision date listed. Below this, there will be a listing of citations to cases and other authorities which have cited your case. Note that the citations are to the specific pages of other cases which have mentioned your case. They are not citations to the initial pages of the cases that have mentioned your case.

6. The citations listed in the columns in Shepards ALWAYS follow the same order: parallel cites (in parenthesis); history of your cases; treatment by other authorities of the law in your case; and finally, a listing of any secondary authorities citing your case.

7. Citations in parenthesis at the top of the list of citations are parallel citations to your case, meaning that they are citations to your case as published in other reporters. You must Shepardize each of these citations to obtain a comprehensive result. Note that some cases do not have parallel cites.

8. The first entries listed in Shepards (after the parallel cite in parenthesis) may be history of your case. You will know this for certain if you see a history abbreviation listed to the left of the cite. Citations about the history of a case ALWAYS have an abbreviation. Be alert for negative history. Below is a list of common history abbreviations (a full list of history abbreviations and their definitions can be found in the Table of Abbreviations found in each volume of Shepard’s):

a = affirmed
cc = connected case
m = modified
cert. den. = certiorari denied
r = reversed
s = same case

9. In the treatment portion of the list of cites, citing references to cases are organized by jurisdiction and court. The highest court is listed first, followed by primary citing authorities and secondary citing authorities.

10. Cites without treatment abbreviations merely mention your case, while cites with treatment abbreviations have treated your case with more depth. Be alert for negative treatment. Below is a list of common treatment abbreviations (a full list of treatment abbreviations and their definitions can be found in the Table of Abbreviations found in each volume of Shepard’s):

c = criticized
d = distinguished
e = explained
f = followed
l = limited
h = harmonized
o = overruled
q = questioned

11. A negative history abbreviation would be “r” or perhaps “m”. A negative treatment abbreviation includes “o”, “d”, “c” and “q”. You MUST read the case(s) which produced this negative indication to see how that ruling affects the authority of your case and you should possibly reconsider using this case.

12. If the case listed has a superior (raised) number preceding the citing case’s page number, this case cites your case for the point of law contained in this particular headnote in your case. For example, if there is a superior number 2 in the citation, this case discusses the point of law discussed in headnote number 2 of your case. If you see a negative history or treatment abbreviation (see information in 11 above), the negative aspect may not be relevant to your research if you are working with a different headnote (point of law) than the one listed as being negative.

13. Additional information about Shepard’s, such as court abbreviations, reporter abbreviations and helpful examples are located at the front of each Shepard’s volume.

14. Any secondary authorities (ALR and journal articles) citing your case are listed at the end of the column of citations. They have no negative or positive affect on the authority of your case, but they do provide valuable research leads to interpretive materials. Additional information about Shepard’s abbreviations to secondary authorities is located at the front of each Shepard’s volume.

15. When Shepardizing in all of the print volumes, you are still lacking coverage for about the past two months. To complete the process, you should call the toll free number listed on the back of the soft cover supplements. The publisher will check your cite and provide any more current information.

16. You may also validate a case using Shepards Citations on Lexis/Nexis, or you may validate a case using KeyCite on Westlaw.