There is an old saying that goes, "fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me". This adage is applicable to most situations in life, but it is particularly true when one goes before a court. It is never a good idea for an attorney to misrepresent facts or the state of the law to the ultimate arbiter of truth. Misrepresenting the state of the law, even if done unintentionally, can ruin a lawyer’s reputation in the legal community.
The best way for an attorney to ensure that they are relying on arguments that reflect the true nature of the law is to use KeyCite on Westlaw; the most accurate, up-to-the-minute citation service on the industry’s easiest, most intuitive legal research system. KeyCite combines Thomson Reuter’s 125-year tradition of editorial excellence with its leading-edge technological expertise to make verifying legal research easier and more efficient than ever. An attorney can use it to instantly verify whether a case, statute, regulation, or administrative decision is good law, or whether a patent or trademark is still valid, and to find citing references to support your legal argument. KeyCite provides easy to understand visual indications at the very top of a document that let practitioners see at a glance the status of a case, statute, regulation, administrative decision, patent or trademark. A red flag warns that the case is no longer good law for at least one of the points of law it contains. A yellow flag warns that the case has some negative story, but hasn't been reversed.
KeyCite can also alert an attorney to other facts about an authority that will be helpful in analyzing a case. For example, if the attorney sees the symbol C next to a document they can immediately tell that the authority has citing references but no direct history or negative citing references, meaning they can cite the case with confidence. Similarly, if the attorney sees the symbol H they know that the case has history which may affect the way the law might be interpreted.
KeyCite information is available for every case in West’s National Reporter System; more than 1 million unpublished cases; federal statutes and regulations; statutes from all 50 states; administrative decisions from selected federal agencies; regulations and administrative decisions from selected states; patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; American Law Reports (ALR) annotations; articles from hundreds of law reviews; and thousands of briefs.
Starting your research with KeyCite:
While it is always a good idea for an attorney to finish their research by checking the good-law status of their cases using KeyCite, KeyCite can also be used to help the attorney find a jumping off point for beginning their research. Opening KeyCite for a resource gives an attorney immediate access to a wide array of additional authorities that may further refine and expand the practitioners understanding of that area of law.
When a practitioner accesses KeyCite information on a piece of “source authority” they gain access to a wealth of commentary on that source. KeyCite’s classification system can answer all the major questions about an additional resource without even requiring the attorney to open the document.
One glance at KeyCite can tell an attorney who the litigants in a related case are, what areas of law are discussed by the subsequent authority, why the treatment of the subsequent case is relevant to the history of the source authority, where the subsequent case was decided, when the subsequent case is decided, and how much the subsequent case discusses the source authority.
Of course, those quick answers convey a wealth of information. Many attorneys find the Depth of Treatment bars available through KeyCite to be an incredible time saver. Before these Depth of Treatment bars were introduced, an attorney would need to manually look at each case to determine how closely the discussion tracked with the authority they were checking. Now attorneys can determine, without spending time reading the case, if their source authority is discussed a lot:
Or just a little:
Cutting out the massive amount of time attorneys would need to spend reviewing cases that ultimately do not affect their client’s position at all makes an attorney’s practice significantly more efficient.
Staying up to date with KeyCite:
Attorneys can also create an alert that will give them regular updates on cases that affect their practice.
Attorneys can select certain cases to track closely and will receive daily, weekly, or monthly alerts that keep them up to date on the most cutting edge legal decisions which relate to issues important to their practice.
Thomson Rueters also has a tool called Westcheck available to attorneys who want to make sure they are using good law in their briefs. Westcheck is a Web-based citation research application that automatically extracts citations from legal documents, allowing attorneys to check the good law-status of hundreds of source authorities at once. WestCheck.com automatically extracts citations from a practitioner’s legal documents or a citations list that has been created manually. Attorneys can check citations in KeyCite, create a table of authorities for cases, and use the Find service to retrieve documents on Westlaw. In addition, WestCheck.com provides a report with a navigational index, summary and detail report sections, KeyCite status flags, depth of treatment stars, KeyCite quotation marks, and links to Westlaw.
When checking your citations list on Westcheck, you can choose to create an online report or an offline report. If an attorney chooses to create an offline report, they can send the report to an e-mail address or download it directly to their desktop. If the attorney chooses to create an online report, they can view and print or save the online report using your browser functions. The online report includes a navigational index, summary report and detail report sections, KeyCite status flags, depth of treatment indicators, KeyCite quotation marks, and links to directly to Westlaw. This is an incredible time-saving tool for a practitioner who wants to check their own work, and invaluable resource for quickly identifying weak points in an opposing counsel’s brief.
With KeyCite as a resource, an attorney can make their research more efficient, and can walk into any court room confident that they are complying with their ethical duties of candor and truthfulness toward the court.
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About the author
As a National Client Representative with Thomson Reuters, Nick Borger regularly works with attorneys many of the largest and most prestigious law firms in the country. Nick leverages his years of experience in practice to assist customers in finding the most efficient ways to conduct their research. Prior to joining the team, Nick was in private practice for 5 years, focusing mostly on commercial litigation.