Making History With Shepard’s Citations


Feature ImageThe story of Shepard’s Citations began when a salesman named Frank Shepard published the first version of his guide to legal precedence in 1873 after noticing how his attorney colleagues kept notes on case treatment in the margins of their documents.

That was 150 years ago this year.

Today, Shepard’s Citations Services continues to be the top choice for attorneys across practice areas, within law firms or as corporate counsel, looking to build their arguments and make critical decisions from the best case law available.

In a recent interview, Above the Law spoke with Principal Product Manager Huiling Chen and Product Manager Karen Hay about the history of Shepard’s Citations and how LexisNexis continually revitalizes Shepard’s for today’s attorneys.

Take In History At A Glance

Hay highlights Shepard’s unique historical display of case treatment as a prime example of that revitalization.

Introduced with the product’s 150 year anniversary in mind, History at a Glance gives legal researchers a new, easier way to view the historical context of a case.

History at a Glance provides high-level analysis and context for the development and treatment of a legal case over time, allowing researchers to determine whether the citations used in their own drafting are good law.

The feature tracks a case’s entire history and displays that information in a dynamic graphic that adapts to the history of the Shepardized case, as well as to specifications set by the researcher.

History at a Glance

Screenshot courtesy of LexisNexis.

Importantly, History at a Glance bolsters Shepard’s ability to help researchers to deal with one problem Frank Shepard never encountered: today’s massive body of case law.

“We have some cases with over a thousand results in their histories,” says Hay. “History at a Glance helps you narrow those results down and find where and when those important decisions were made.”

History at a Glance’s intuitive interface is a key part of the product’s ability to direct researchers to the best case law available and provide seamless access to information about how specific court decisions have impacted the Shepardized case.

Additional filters streamline the search process, equipping researchers to swiftly sort out jurisdictions, documents types, and other factors that are irrelevant to the task at hand.

“It goes back to our 150 years of experience analyzing these cases and connecting them,” adds Chen.

“What Shepard’s does is simplify and summarize to answer your key question while providing information and context about relevant proceedings.”

Linear View (1)

Screenshot courtesy of LexisNexis.

150 Years of Shepard’s

When your product’s name becomes a verb, you know you’ve made it.

“Shepardizing your case is the first thing you learn in your legal research and writing classes,” says Hay. “When I was clerking and practicing, that’s what the partners would always ask: ‘Did you Shepardize?’”

“In the eyes of every partner I’ve worked for, Shepard’s has been the gold standard for whether you’ll demonstrate completeness and competence in the courtroom.”

The high level of trust attorneys have in Shepard’s, however, had to be earned through a century and a half of excellent, accurate analysis and evaluation of the law.

Frank Shepard’s first pamphlets were a reflection of a focus on practicality, initially only covering case law relevant to attorneys based in his home state of Illinois, according to LexisNexis. Those pamphlets evolved into “adhesive annotations” that could be pasted directly into document margins during the research process.

Shepard’s Adhesive Annotations (1)

Image courtesy of LexisNexis.

Those pamphlets soon grew into large, bound volumes that tackled case law in an ever-expanding range of jurisdictions while the Shepard’s company weathered both World Wars and the Great Depression. To this day, editions of these printed works line the walls of law libraries across the nation.

(For those dedicated to physical books, current print editions of Shepard’s Citations are still available.)

Shepard’s moved online in 1980, but it wasn’t until LexisNexis acquired Shepard’s in 1999 that the research tool’s online platform gained the extensive analytical capabilities today’s users have come to know and appreciate.

Frank Shepard (1)

Image courtesy of LexisNexis.

Innovations introduced by LexisNexis – including tech-assisted document analysis tools and a fresh vetting and drafting process helmed by a team of attorney-editors — have since boosted the speed, accuracy, and usability of the Shepard’s platform.

History at a Glance, developed with the aid of extensive customer input, is only the latest iteration of how Shepard’s follows Frank Shepard’s drive to streamline the legal research process and adapt to the needs of today’s attorneys.

Chen and Hay say their team will continue to carry on that mission through each new iteration and update of Shepard’s.

“We’re driven by the same concepts that drove Frank Shepard forward: providing comprehensive, accurate, timely data in an innovative way,” says Chen.

“I think he’d be proud of what he created and the fact that he laid the foundation that allows us to practice the way we do today,” Hay adds.

To learn more about Shepard’s Citations Services or Lexis+, please visit


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