Today’s guest post was written by Lisa Solomon, a lawyer who provides legal research and writing services for solo and small law firms. You can learn more about her at the end of the post.
Citators have two main functions. First, they allow you to quickly locate other cases that cite a particular case. Second, they allow you to quickly identify other cases that affect the validity of a particular case.*
While many consider Shepard’s (from LexisNexis) and KeyCite (from Thomson Reuters, home of WestlawNext) to be the “gold standard” in citators, the former is available only in connection with a Lexis Advance subscription and the latter is available only in connection with a WestawNext subscription. Here are some free alternatives to consider:
Fastcase’s Authority Check
Low-cost subscription service Fastcase is free via the service’s iPad, iPhone and Android apps. Fastcase’s citator, called Authority Check, displays a list of hyperlinked citing cases, as well as the text in which the citation occurs. Within Authority Check, Bad Law Bot flags cases for which it sees negative treatment; however, Fastcase itself warns that “this is not a complete citator like Shepard’s.” In addition to displaying a list of citing cases, Authority Check also presents results visually along a timeline.
Google Scholar’s “How Cited” Tab
Google Scholar—probably the most well-known source of free legal information—doesn’t have a traditional citator. Instead, a “How cited” tab at top of each displayed case leads to a page with three sections. The results in the “How this document has been cited” section are based on number of times case has been cited for a particular legal proposition. The “Cited by” section includes depth of treatment indicators. Finally, the documents listed under “Related documents” are documents similar to the cited case.
Casetext’s Context Column and Summaries
When I wrote about Casetext last November, I was fairly critical of its WeCite citator. While Casetext hasn’t given up on WeCite, it has recently added a number of features—CasetextNext, if you will—that make it easier to use Casetext to update your research and validate your cases than it was before.
In what it calls the “context column” on the right side of the screen, Casetext now displays three types of information. At the top of the column, Casetext displays Insights, which are articles on Casetext that discuss the case you’re viewing. Insights can be sorted by date or depth of treatment. Under Insights, Casetext displays citing cases (including WeCite treatments, if they exist). Under the citation to each citing case, Casetext now displays a snippet from the case (similar to WestlawNext’s KeyCite display). Citing cases can be sorted by date, court or—where a case has WeCite treatment—depth of treatment. Finally, you search within both Insights and citing cases by entering search terms in the search box at the top of the context column.
Additionally, when Casetext displays a case, it now displays 1–2 sentence summaries, from other cases, of the case you’re viewing. The summaries appear between the case name and the text of the case you’re viewing, in the main portion of the screen. Under the summaries, Casetext now displays “key passages” from the case you’re viewing (those passages that are most quoted in other cases and in articles on Casetext). Clicking on a key passage does two things: (1) it scrolls the case display to point where the passage appears in the text; and (2) it switches the context column to sentence level mode (i.e., the context column displays only insights and citing cases that mention the particular key passage you’re focusing on).
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*Shepard’s and KeyCite both use symbols to indicate negative treatment. However, just as you shouldn’t rely on Key Numbers instead of reading a case, you shouldn’t rely on negative treatment symbols, but should read the citing case to determine for yourself how it treats the cited case.
Lisa Solomon is a freelance attorney who assists solos and small firms with all their legal research and writing needs. Lisa is also a nationally-known author and speaker about persuasive legal writing and contract (a/k/a freelance) lawyering. You can find out more about Lisa’s practice at http://QuestionOfLaw.net.