When conducting legal research in Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law, you will encounter a number of graphics and symbols that are simultaneously helpful and confusing. In this three-part Graphics of Legal Research series, we are going to demystify some of the most common graphics that you may encounter when conducting legal research:
Part 1 – citator symbols
Part 2 – depth analysis
Part 3 – Ravel Law
On to citator symbols!
A citator is a tool that provides you with a list of documents and resources that cite to a specific document or resource, and alert you to whether any of those citing references are negative. Westlaw’s citator is KeyCite, Lexis’ is Shepard’s, and Bloomberg’s is BCite. A citator is helpful to a researcher who is trying to determine whether a particular piece of primary authority is still “good law” – it is vital that a lawyer does not rely on primary authority that is no longer “good law.”
- Cases – “good law” means that a case has not been reversed or overruled by a subsequent court opinion or legislative action
- Statutes – “good law” means that a statute has not been repealed by legislative action or invalidated by a court opinion
- Regulations – “good law” means that a regulation has not been repealed by an executive agency or invalidated by either a court opinion or legislative action
Watch the short video below for a famous example of a lawyer who did rely on primary authority that was no longer “good law.”
KeyCite uses status flags to alert researchers to negative treatment. Not every piece of primary law will have a status flag – if it does not, the law is still “good,” but if it does, it means the law has at least some negative treatment. For cases, this negative treatment could be overruling, superseding, or another negative action. The two most significant symbols to watch for in Westlaw are the red flag and yellow flag.
Shepard’s also uses color-coded symbols to alert researchers to negative treatment. A lack of a citator graphic indicates the law is still “good.” The two most significant symbols in Lexis to watch for are the red stop sign and the yellow trinagle.
BCite has a red/yellow color system as well for its two major citator symbols.
A red box with a white line in the center indicates the most negative results from the Direct History of Case Analysis, indicating the case was reversed, vacated, or depublsihed in full or in part.
A yellow box with a white triangle in the center indicates some negative/cautionary results from the Direct History or Case Analysis, indicating the case was modified, clarified or amended.
**IMPORTANT LAST NOTE ABOUT CITATOR SYMBOLS** – just because a piece of primary authority has a citator symbol next to it in one of the legal databases does not automatically mean it cannot be used for your purpose(s). The legal databases add a citator symbol for ANY negative treatment; that treatment could be from a different jurisdiction as the primary authority or for an issue unrelated to the one that you are relying on the law for – in both of those instances, the primary authority may still be “good law” for the legal issue on which you want to use it.