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Use Online Citators to Both Expand and Update your Research

By Mark Kloempken & Tove Klovning

What is a citator?

A Citator is a tool which allows you to track the history of your case and the treatment of your case by subsequent courts.  Citators allow you to determine if your case is still good law and it acts as a research tool allowing you find other cases (and other secondary materials) which cited your case.

When you shepardized/keycited U.S. v. Grabowski.  U.S. v. Grabowski is the cited reference.  All the cases that have cited U.S. v. Grabowski are the citing references.  In the lingo, your case is the “cited reference” and the cases which mention it are the “citing references.”  Grabowski = the ‘cited reference.’  Other materials which cite ‘Grabowski’ are the citing references.  

Citators are used for a number of reasons.  One reason is to find a case or statute's direct history. With cases, one can find prior and subsequent history.  With statutes, one can find whether the statute was amended or if there is pending legislation, for example.  Another reason to use a citator is to identify negative treatment (such as if the case has been overruled) or to find positive treatment (such as another case that agrees with the analysis of your case).  Citators can also be used to find additional primary and secondary sources.  Finally, there are practical and ethical considerations.  Lawyers must be thorough and prepared, and part of that involves making sure that the cases or statutes cited are still good law and can be used as precedent.

The two major online citators are Shepard's (through LexisNexis) and KeyCite (through Westlaw). Online citators provides a legal  researcher with information on how a particular case, legal issue in a case, statute or regulation has been treated by the courts or  the legislator or cited in secondary sources.

The citators in WestlawNext and LexisNexis Advanced are both:

A Validation Tool: The citator determines what happened to your case, statute, or regulation after it was released. (has it been reversed on appeal?  been overruled?  been treated negatively by a subsequent court?)
B. Research Tool: The citator provides reference to secondary sources and citing cases.
 
“The process of “Shepardizing” a case is fundamental to legal research and can be completed in a manner of minutes, especially when done with the aid of a computer. “ Medowbrook , LLC v. Flower and Pelton,, 959 P.2d 115, 120, 343 Utah Adv. Rep. 27 (1998)