INTRODUCTION TO LEGAL RESEARCH
discussed in ten other cases, Shepard’s will identify these ten cases. Shepard’s will list a case that overrules the case you wish to update, as well as other cases that discuss, explain, or even mention the case you are updating. This will allow you to find out what other courts have said about the case you are updating and will also show you how other courts have handled the issues raised by that case.
Cases are listed in Shepard’s only by citation, not by name. To “Shepardize” a case, first find the Shepard’s series that matches the reporter in which your case is found. The corresponding case reporter name is printed on the binding of each Shepard’s volume. For example, if the case you are updating is reported in “F.2d,” find the Shepard’s volumes that have “Federal Reporter (Second Series)” printed on the binding. The binding will also show what year(s) or volume(s) of the reporter are covered by that Shepard’s volume. Next, find the volume number in the citation of the case you are updating. (The volume is the first number in the citation.) Open the Shepard’s volume that includes the volume of the reporter, then search for that volume number in the upper right hand corner of the page. Once you’ve found the page where the citations for that volume number begin, look down the columns of citations listed until you find the starting page number of the case you are updating. This page number will be printed in large bold type. Beneath the bold page number are citations to cases that have mentioned the case you are updating. Citations in Shepard’s are provided alphabetically by jurisdiction and in reverse chronological order (most recent to oldest) within each jurisdiction. The citations are not given in full. They contain only the volume number, the reporter, and the page number that refers to the case you are updating. (Note that the page number provided is not the first page of the cited case, but rather the page where the case you have Shepardized is mentioned.)
A list of abbreviations appears at the front of each Shepard’s volume to help you decode and understand the reporter abbreviations. There are often letters in front of the listed citations. The letters are a code that tells you how the later cases treated the case you are Shepardizing. They tell you whether a later court overruled, criticized, or followed the case. The code letters are explained in a table on the inside of the front cover of each Shepard’s volume. The most important symbols to look for are “o” which indicates the case you are researching has been overruled, “r” which indicates that the case you are researching has been reversed, and “d” which indicates that the case you are researching has been distinguished (that is, another court has created an exception to the case you are researching). These are “negative treatments” of the case. Negative treatment makes a case less reliable. If the case you are researching has been overruled or reversed, then it is no longer useful to you. If it has been distinguished, then you must find out why it was distinguished and then make arguments why your situation should not be distinguished from the case you are Shepardizing. Sometimes a court reverses, overrules, or distinguishes only a part of a previous case rather than the entire opinion. Therefore, it is important to determine whether the specific issue of interest to you has been reversed, overruled, or distinguished. Even if the court overruled or reversed the case based on a different issue, if you use this case in your legal documents, your case citation should indicate that the case was reversed on other grounds so the court knows you have done your research.
To find the most recent cases that have mentioned the case you are updating, check the hardcover supplements, if any. Next, check the current paperback supplements. You should check the supplements just as you would the main volume, because they are organized in the same way. There are also volumes of Shepard’s citations for statutes and federal rules, which list the judicial opinions that cite particular statutory provisions or federal rules. These are used to update statutes and rules in the same manner as the series for updating case law.
Shepardizing is used not only to update cases but also as a means to find other helpful cases. If you already have one case that is useful, Shepardizing that case will often lead you to other cases that will be helpful. The disadvantage of this method of finding cases is that Shepard’s does not contain headnotes. Thus, you must read the cited case to learn whether it is helpful. However, you can shorten your search if you know the relevant headnote number from the case you are updating. You can use this headnote number to limit the cases you need to review to those containing the same number. In some citations there is a small superscript number between the reporter abbreviation and the page number; this shows that the cited case discusses the issue described in that headnote (superscript is text written small and high like this word:
superscript). If you are interested in the issue discussed in headnote number 2 of the case you are updating, scan the list of citations for those that have a superscripted “2” in the citation. This will limit your review of cases to those that discuss the issue corresponding to headnote number 2 of the case you are updating. However, not all citations will list which headnotes are discussed. If you find a citation that does not list which headnotes are discussed, then you cannot tell whether that case will be useful until you read it.