Thursday, July 28, 2005

Research Tip: Westlaw's KeyCite Gets Graphical

Any good legal researcher will tell you that one of the most important parts of legal research is updating. You cannot cite to a case that is no longer "good law"—in other words, before you rely on a case to support your legal argument, you must make sure that it has not been reversed, overruled, or otherwise invalidated. KeyCite on Westlaw has always been an excellent way to update or validate your research. For cases it provides the appellate history of the case you KeyCited – decisions by courts that have ruled on that specific case – as well as a list of all other cases and many secondary sources that have cited to the case.

The appellate history of a case with a complicated procedural history can have dozens of orders and opinions by the courts that considered it. And KeyCite will give you all of those orders and decisions in a long list of citations arranged in chronological order. Although KeyCite provides little visual cues in the list – a blue arrow blue arrow and gray shading indicate the citation you KeyCited, flags red flag and other symbols show the status of each case, and connecting phrases summarize how each citation relates to the one before it in the list – it can be difficult to see where each order or decision fits into the big picture. For example, if you KeyCited Burdine v. Texas Dept. of Community Affairs, 608 F.2d 563 (5th Cir. 1979), you would see the following at the beginning of the History page:

KeyCite textual display

KeyCite navigation box

There is a good deal of important information there, and with a little time and effort you can visualize the appellate history of this case. But if you are a visual thinker, you might prefer to see a flowchart-like presentation of this information. Now you can. This summer Westlaw unveiled its Graphical KeyCite feature. Now, on the Links tab in the left frame for any case with KeyCite information, you will have a box like the one shown to the right.

If you clicked on the flowchart icon Graphical KeyCite icon for the Burdine case, you would see the following graphical representation of the appellate history, with the highest court at the top of the page, and the timeline moving from left to right.

KeyCite graphical display

Ask any reference librarian if you need help with your research.

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