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Shepard's Citations Explained by the Experts

January 03, 2023 (9 min read)

We sat down with Alison Manchester, Vice President of Product Management, and Huiling Chen, Principal Product Manager, on the LexisNexis® Shepard’s® team to learn more about the history of Shepard’s Citation Service, how Lexis® provides the most up-to-date Shepard’s information, and what we can expect to see in the future.


Q: How would you describe Shepard’s Citation Service to those who are unfamiliar?

Alison: Shepard's Citation Service is a trademark product of LexisNexis. [It's] analyzing the law and understanding the impact to it over time...It gives you a view of the law as it is and helps a user determine whether it is good or not going forward, as well as facilitates leading you to perhaps even better sources of research. It helps you to make some of the best arguments for your client and helps to  curtail mistakes. It's understanding the law and making sure that you understand the impact to that law over time because laws are based on precedent.  It changes, it's a fluid thing, and it's important to know exactly what's going on.


Q: Frank Shepard had big goals for his case annotations product. How has Lexis continued his mission today?

Alison: He passed away at about the turn of the century right around 1900. And he actually passed away at his desk in his office. And the story goes that as his staff was carting him out of the building, they carried him down the steps and a little slip of paper fell from his pocket, saying it had his epitaph in it because...he was always prepared. And [they were] basically handed the inscription for his tomb saying:

‘Here lies a man of honor, a reputation without blemish, and someone who's set the foundation for all those to follow’

and that's something that we really live by today.  The same concepts that drove him forward: the accuracy, the information, the innovation around coming up with something like this, those are the tenants that we follow through today and the work that we do with Shepard’s.


Q: Has technology changed the end goal of Shepard’s Citations?

Alison: Frank Shepard was thinking about those connections between data and connecting data points and doing it in a way that made research easier and facilitated saving time and saving energy. And that's exactly what we're doing today...If you think about [it], Frank Shepard’s original idea was to paste those adhesive annotations on the margins of the case. That's exactly what we’ve attempted to emulate with our technology . So now when you look at a case on Lexis, you see the tab with basically the annotations sticking there in that tab above the case. So, it's really interesting how technology has helped us realize his vision.


Q: When we get a new case from the courts, what does the process look like to get Shepard’s Citations up and running?

Huiling: [The editors] traditionally followed the lead of the courts and reporter of decisions. We review  available case opinions as determined by the courts and then we incorporate a lot of extensive quality checks through this in-depth editorial process.  [Our editors] read and analyze for appellate history and treatment, where treatments consist of impacts on  law cited within the case, and [they] are added as Shepard’s treatment phrases to the citing decisions.

Alison: In a nutshell... the first step that takes place is case collection. We collect cases from close to probably 1200 different sources now across the country...From there we have processes that go through and automatically identify the citations within the text of the cases and make those correlations between the case that came in and that the case that's been mentioned. We call those the citing and the cited cases, but they're capturing those relationships between the case that came in or the case that you’re seeing. We have editors and we have also automated tools that look at the format of citations, for instance, and look at other aspects of the opinion and make sure everything's correct, that there are no typos...Because, of course, everything hinges on that...the cases are routed to the attorney editors for Shepard’s, and they are reading and analyzing the decisions to understand how this new case that they're reading impacts all of the cases that are mentioned within it...So things like this case followed that case or this case overruled that case. They're making those determinations...we are trying to release when ready basically. So as work gets done, it's then funneled back to Lexis and starts to appear.


Q: There are new cases coming out every hour. The team must be busy!

Huiling: The team has worked on over 428,000 cases this year. So that's a lot of cases that are coming in and being touched by our content editors as well as our legal attorney editors.

Alison: As of 2022, almost 37 million citations have been "Shepardized"™!


Q: LexisNexis is a leader in litigation analytics. How has Shepard’s been involved with the recent innovations?

Huiling: We’ve propagated Shepard’s information throughout the legal researcher’s workflow. A highly popular feature is our Shepard’s Preview on the right-hand side of the document where you can get that at-a-glance summary of what's happening to this case from a citing decisions perspective or history...We actually added another feature to give you the Reason for Signal so that users could see not just that it  had negative treatment, but you know what was the specific language within the court that drove that court’s treatment regarding  that signal.


Q: How has Shepard’s been integrated with new features on Lexis+?

Huiling: New items or features on Lexis+ are Shepard’s® At Risk feature and that's leveraging Shepard’s analysis on cases and looking at the correlation of a case that's following another case that was subsequently overturned on that same point of law. We're able to triangulate and provide what we call an At Risk indicator that gives the fact that this case may be at risk of being overturned.


Q: How has Shepard’s expanded beyond just individual cases? Can we see it anywhere else on Lexis?

Huiling: Ravel™ is another company that was acquired by Lexis. And when they first joined our company, the first initiative was around integrating Ravel into our cases and Shepard’s, and they had something that they called the Ravel™ View which gives you a citation map or a map of relations of your search results. So, you could run a search...and pull up all the cases and in a visual you'll see circles. You have citing to [and] cited relationships, and they're all related by that search that you ran. Then Shepard's information is laid on top of that information so you can see, as the case[s] is...traveling through time, how they are  cited and what happened to them. It's a kind of a merger of Shepard’s information with Ravel technology.

Alison: With Ravel technology, you can kind of expand Shepard’s out exponentially. One case talked about another case, talked about a third case, talked about a fourth case or was related to it in some way, and you can map that whole thing out, which is what Ravel view does.


Q: Will Shepard’s continue to grow in the Lexis analytics family?

Huiling: [The intent of our roadmap is to] create experiences across the products and to look into ways to continue to expand our Shepard’s information beyond just being a citator, whether it is expanding the scope of the At Risk feature in ways that notify the users of changes in the law even though court hasn’t yet rule on this case or specifically overruled or overturned or it is supporting other analytical tools found in the Lexis suite of products.


Q: "Shepardize” has become a well-known phrase in the legal industry. What makes Shepard’s the gold standard for citation validation?

Alison: It's the history. It’s the fact that Shepard’s was potentially the only known citator for many, many, many, many years. It started in 1873. If you think about when KeyCite started, that was about 1996. So that difference in history is really one of the main drivers...It's arguably comprehensive. The amount of data that we's huge. We're covering a broad swath of data and Lexis has one of the most robust collections of law available anywhere. Especially, where some of the [free] providers may not have the breadth of data to support creating a citator like this.

It’s about the level of expertise of editors and analysis done by people who read these opinions...but in many instances [free providers] may not have that. The system that we use is premised upon Frank Shepard’s philosophy and arguable provides more information than any other system out there including KeyCites. If you think about the type of analysis that is applied in Shepard’s, it expands throughout a very broad range of treatment, from something as followed, to something as criticized, to overruled, to distinguished, et cetera. And there are a lot of differences. [There are different] flavors of analysis that the editors apply, which are really helpful in identifying the type of impact that one case had on another. If you look at a system like KeyCite, they really appear to be doing “criticized” and “overruled,” and not much more.  So, it's somewhat narrow and in order to figure out what those finer distinctions are, you may desire to go and read all the cases.

Huiling: They really don't go into the nuances of cases that are actually being followed or affirmed to suffice for my liking. There's also a broader set of analysis around “neutral,” whether it's been explained, interpreted or construed. And then we have also an orange “Q”...that is questioning the validity of another case.  This shows the breadth of treatment that we have in Shepard’s from a signal standpoint... [we are] telling our customers at-a-glance, whether this case is followed, whereas KeyCite doesn’t do this in the same manner, or with the same breadth, as our offering.


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