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Shepard’s Citation Guide Part 1: The History

September 16, 2022 (6 min read)

If you're an attorney, you've probably heard the phrase, "Did you Shepardize®?” As the premier citator, Shepard's® Citation Service is one of the most well-respected tools in the legal industry. Much like Xerox, it has become the moniker for checking and validating citations, used by attorneys and judges alike. This three-part series will show you where Shepard’s came from, what Shepard’s does, and what the future of Shepard’s Citations holds.  

What is Shepard’s Citation Service?  

Shepard’s Citation Service tracks cases for changes in the validity of the opinion and can be used as a research tool or a validation tool. Using color-coded shapes called Shepard’s Signals™, Shepard’s Citator shows users whether a document still has precedential value. At a glance, Shepard’s Signals show a full scope of analysis from Positive to Negative and everything in between.   


Alison Manchester, Vice President of Product Management at Lexis®, describes using Shepard’s Citator as “analyzing the law and understanding the impact over’s important to know exactly what is going on.” Shepard’s helps attorneys avoid costly mistakes by relying on overturned or outdated law.  

History of Shepard’s Citations 

Shepard’s Citator was first published in 1873 by Frank Shepard, a salesman in Chicago. During his sales meetings, he noticed that every attorney was doing the same thing: keeping notes of case treatment in the margins. With this knowledge, Shepard created the first legal data analytics tool -- one that would become invaluable to attorneys and set a precedent for the way the legal industry operates today. The first Shepard’s pamphlets were created for Illinois attorneys and later evolved into adhesive annotations that could be put directly into casebooks. His company later moved to New York City and in the 1950s to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where it is still headquartered today.  

Shepard’s Citation Service has been online since the 1980s, providing even easier access to attorneys. In 1998, Lexis purchased Shepard’s Citator and the functionality we see today was added just a year later. Today, Lexis is the exclusive provider of Shepard’s Citation Services. While other legal research providers have created alternative citation services, only Shepard's Citator is grounded in over a century of expertise. As a result, Shepard's Citator has a reputation for innovation and reliability, ultimately revealed through its nuanced view of the law and timely updates. 

Updates to Shepard's Citations: A Look Inside the Process 

For over 145 years, attorneys have been relying on Shepard's Citations to assist in their research. The process for preparing a Shepard's report has been established and refined over all those years, adjusting with advances in technology. While Frank Shepard did his own analysis of cases, Lexis now has a team of attorney-editors responsible for creating and updating Shepard’s reports.  Following the lead of courts and reporters, the editors start with an intricate, multi-step process for each document.  Huiling Chen, Principal Product Manager at Lexis, says, “We incorporate a lot of extensive quality checks through this in-depth editorial really does start off with our Shepard’s attorney-editors that read and analyze for appellate history and treatment.”  

Unlike Frank Shepard, today’s attorney-editors have a little help from technology to create Shepard’s Reports. Technology helps identify citations, legal terms of art, and other critical information within documents. Then, attorney-editors use their legal expertise to read and analyze documents to determine how it affects other decisions. While this process is rigorous, it’s also important to get this information to attorneys quickly. As attorney-editors complete steps in the Shepard’s process, this information is uploaded to cases, so users always have the most current information.  

The final step in the Shepard’s process is preparing the report for print. Shepard’s citations in print are still available for purchase and are frequently found in law libraries in the same basic format that Frank Shepard used so many years before.  

Shepard’s Citation Research 

Legal cases are built on history, authority, and principle. Shepard’s compiles the most extensive, timely, and relevant sources into a single report so attorneys can be confident they are citing good law and did not miss anything during their research.  These two aspects of Shepard's Citation Service -- citation validation and research expansion -- are what make the tool invaluable.  

Shepard’s Citator’s most known use is case validation (i.e., determining if a case has precedential value). Shepard’s Citator not only provides an overall look at the status of a case, but attorneys can drill down into specific issues within the case for further analysis. Headnotes break down a case into individual issues and Shepard’s Signals are applied to each headnote for a quick look at what specifically has been challenged, overturned, or followed.  

Example of a headnote: 

Shepard’s Citation Service has expanded beyond what Frank Shepard imagined, allowing attorneys to expand their research with the click of a button. In addition to seeing citing and cited cases, Shepard’s reports link cases with Lexis’s vast collection of secondary sources, court documents, and statutes. The attorney-editor team also tracks case progression through the appeals process to give attorneys a heads up on changes to case law.  

The Future of Shepard’s Citations 

Shepard’s Citator started as a print guide for attorneys, but it has endless potential. As more courts move online, it will continue to grow and include these new courts and documents. Integration with other LexisNexis® products may be the next big step for Shepard’s Citation Service. Wherever Shepard’s Citator goes, it will be far beyond Frank Shepard’s wildest dreams. 

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See next post: Shepardize your Legal Research