A Good Shephard

Criminal defense lawyer Jon Katz makes a valid point at his web site about properly checking the viability of a case to be relied upon. Given the ease of “Shepardizing” on Lexis or “KeyCiting” on Westlaw using a web interface, it is easy for me to believe that many researchers might look at the results page, note whether there is a clear history or a “flag” and leave it at that.
But the results page, in and of itself, is not the final word on case status. It is vital that the researcher follow both the case history and the citing opinion links and determine what was actually accomplished by subsequent courts in connection with the target authority. First, the little flag or short case history phrase is not descriptive enough to clearly identify what has happened with the authority. Second, Shephards or KeyCite could very well be *gasp* wrong. Attorney Katz cites two examples of the latter in his post at the jump above.
It is certainly true that following all of the links to a case, particularly a higher level case with an important outcome, can be time-consuming, to say the least. But you must follow those links – the quality of your argument and your own reputation depend upon careful examination of the strength of your authority. Thorough research is more than just finding the decision that supports your point; it also includes ensuring your argument’s foundation is crack-free.

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