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Online Citators

Updated May 18, 2015.
Prepared by Jonathan Franklin; updated by Mary Whisner (2006) and Cheryl Nyberg (2011, 2014).

A citator is a tool that helps a researcher determine the status of a case, statute, or regulation. Is your case still good law? Has the statute or regulation been amended? What other cases cite to your case?

The two major online citation services are KeyCite (a Westlaw product) and Shepard's (available on LexisNexis and LexisNexis Academic).

Note: LexisNexis Advance and Westlaw Next are restricted to users with individual passwords. The Law Library does not have a subscription to either service for use by members of the public. LexisNexis Academic (and the Shepard's service) is available to members of the public visiting the Law Library. [UW Restricted]

Using Citators

Researchers use citators for several purposes:

To find parallel citations.

To find direct history (such as subsequent reversal on appeal).

    1. Cases include prior and subsequent history.
    2. Statutes include reversal, amendment, or pending legislation.

To find primary and secondary sources on a particular narrow topic.

To find negative treatment (such as your case has been overruled or your statute having been amended).

To find positive treatment (such as another case agreeing with the analysis in yours).

Online citators are greatly preferred over print citators because they are much more up-to-date. For instance, the direct history of a case is updated on KeyCite within 4 hours and overruled cases are identified within 24 hours.

Both LexisNexis and Westlaw provide guides and factsheets on their citators (most of these documents are in PDF).

Lexis channel on YouTube

KeyCite on Westlaw

Shepard's on LexisNexis

KeyCite on WestlawNext Shepard's Quick Reference
KeyCite Direct History in Graphical View Shepard's Overview
Using KeyCite on Westlaw Guide (39 pages) Shepardizing with Lexis Advance (flash tutorial) (Law School subscribers only)


Major Differences Between Shepard's & KeyCite


Organizes cases by jurisdiction

Permits you to limit the citation list with a Boolean search by using the FOCUS feature to search the text of citing cases

Includes a positive treatment signal

Permits you to change the defaults (under Options or Preferences)

Offers citation services for law review articles

Lists the status of each case cited in your case (Table of Authorities)

Organizes cases by treatment and then depth of analysis

Permits you to limit the citation list with a Boolean search by using the LOCATE feature to search the text of citing cases

Helps determine how deeply other cases analyze your case (KC Stars)

Identifies cases that quote your case (KC Quotation symbols)

Helps keep you up-to-date on the latest changes in status (KC Alert)

Lists the status of each case cited in your case (KC Table of Authorities)

Tip: Bells and whistles you do not need are not useful in deciding which service to use.


Other Online Citation Services

Bloomberg Law's BCite is a newer entry in the citator world. View the video (available to registered users only)


Important Points

Use citators early in your research to find more recent relevant secondary sources, statutes, cases, and regulations.

Use online citators for verification whenever possible.

Don't rely the graphical symbol when determining whether your case is still good law because every case and statute stands for multiple legal propositions. The red or yellow symbol you see might be for a totally different legal point in that case or statute.


Citator Comparison Table



Shepard's on LexisNexis

Case finding from a term or concept KeySearch Service Search Advisor Service
Secondary source finding from a statute, case, or regulation KC Citations: Includes ALR, Am. Jur., law reviews, CLEs, and treatises Includes law reviews and ALR
Case finding from a case
  • KC History
  • KC Citations
    • Stars indicate depth of treatment
    • Primary sources first, by treatment and stars
    • Use Limit feature
      • Jurisdiction limits
      • Show citation counts
    • Search text of citing cases with LOCATE
    • Use KeyCite Notes to limit to a headnote
  • Most Cited Cases
  • KeyCite Alert
  • TOA (Table of Authorities) lists cases your case cites
    • Stars
    • Flags
    • Quotation marks
  • Main screen
    • Combines history and citations.
    • Primary sources first, arranged by jurisdiction.
    • Use Custom restrictions
      • Jurisdiction limits
      • Search text of citing cases with FOCUS
      • Limit to major cases by choosing "any analysis"
  • Table of Authorities lists cases your case cites
Case and regulation finding from a statute
  • KC History
  • KC Citations
    • Pending legislation
    • Apply limits
    • Includes Federal Register citations
  • KeyCite Alert

  • More focus with the ability to search subsections, but harder to get all relevant citations
  • Use FOCUS or Custom restrictions to limit
  • Can find cases but not regulations
Regulation finding
  • KC History
  • KC Citations: Apply limits
  • KeyCite Alert
  • More focus with the ability to search subsections, but harder to get all relevant citations
  • Use FOCUS or Custom restrictions to limit
Secondary source finding from a law review article Covers law reviews available on Westlaw Covers law reviews available on LexisNexis plus selected law reviews back to 1957
Case updating
  • Red = No longer good law for at least one point of law
  • Yellow = Some negative history
  • H = Some history
  • C = Citing references only
  • KeyCite Alert
  • Red = Strong negative history or treatment
  • Orange = Questions precedential value
  • Yellow = History or treatment may have significant negative impact
  • Green = Positive treatment
  • A = Neutral citations only
  • I = Citing references are material (e.g., law review articles) without treatment codes
Statute updating
  • Red = Amended or repealed
  • Yellow = Pending legislation
  • Sections mentioned in pending legislation don't get flags
  • KeyCite Alert
Does not use signals
Regulation updating
  • No flags > Update button
  • KeyCite Alert
Does not use signals


Access to Online Citators in the Gallagher Law Library

UW School of Law faculty, students, and staff have access to KeyCite and Shepard's via their individual passwords to Westlaw and LexisNexis. See the Gallagher guide on Access to Bloomberg Law, LexisNexis & Westlaw.

Other University of Washington faculty, students, and staff and visitors to a UW library have access to Shepard's through the UW Libraries subscription to LexisNexis Academic. [UW Restricted] Note that the version of Shepard's on LexisNexis Academic covers only case law. See Shepard's Citations for more information.


Final Thoughts

Finding secondary sources: Try KeyCite first.

Finding cases: Toss up > Which organizational scheme do you prefer? Also, would you rather limit by Key Number (KeyCite) or term (Shepard's)? KeyCite claims to include more sources than Shepard's.

Updating cases: Either service, ideally both. Shepard's has positive feedback signals and might be more up-to-date.

Updating statutes and regulations: KeyCite seems more up-to-date.


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