What Is Shepardizing™?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Shepardizing™ is a process for checking to see if laws and court decisions are still valid by looking up their history and a list of all authorities referring to them. This is an important part of preparing for a case, as no attorney wants to make an argument in court relying on a decision or law that has since been overturned. Historically, this required painstaking research in books and other references. Today, it is often possible to use electronic databases to perform Shepardizing™ tasks.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

This term refers to Shepard's Citations, a legal citator that has been published since 1873, originally in paper format and today in digital form. Citators provide a list of authorities who reference laws and cases. This allows a researcher to see who else is talking about a legal issue. It can also provide red flag warnings, such as a link to a court decision overturning a law. Additionally, attorneys may find Shepardizing™ useful for identifying additional sources to use in their work.

Not all attorneys use Shepard's Citations in their case research, but many do, and the term has become generic for using any citator to look up references to a case. In order to research cases, the attorney needs to have information about the date, location, and specifics of the case so she can look it up properly in the citator and follow the appropriate citations. Shepardizing™ can be a lengthy process, and some attorneys may put interns in charge of the basic research.

Law schools typically teach students how to do this and provide tips and tricks on Shepardizing™ efficiently and effectively. Interns will get valuable experience in law firms where supervisors may have them assist with research. This can provide a chance to get familiar with different kinds of electronic databases and how they work to assist with rapidly researching and identifying the most important citations and sources. The law can move quickly, and attorneys need to make sure they have up-to-date information.

In addition to being useful for case research, Shepardizing™ can also help attorneys follow the progress of their own cases. They can periodically look up cases to see if anyone is citing them. This will help attorneys find useful scholarship surrounding cases they've argued in court. It will also alert a lawyer to a situation where a judge challenges or overturns a decision in a case, which could result in needing to re-argue it and come with fresh supporting evidence.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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