3 minute read


An interactive, computer-assisted citatory service that allows legal researchers to verify the validity of a case and to find all references that have cited that case as authority.

Every day, lawyers are asked by their clients to persuade judges to rule in their favor. One way in which they try to accomplish this task is by citing prior legal decisions, called precedent, that support their clients' positions. Depending on its factual similarity to a pending legal dispute, a relevant precedent can control or influence the outcome of a case. Consequently, lawyers look for ways to make precedents appear more persuasive, while courts look for ways to determine which precedents are relevant, important, or controlling in their jurisdictions.

KeyCite is designed to expedite the process of assessing a case's presidential value. Released by West Group in July 1997, KeyCite was initially available only through Westmate, an online software package that allows subscribers to Westlaw™, West's computer-assisted research service, to connect through their personal computer modems over a telephone line into a central mainframe computer located in Eagan, Minnesota. By the end of 1997, however, KeyCite was also made available to customers over the INTERNET and through West Group's CD-ROM software package called Premise™. The majority of users now use the service through WESTLAW on the Internet.

KeyCite uses graphical markers to signify the status or history of a case. A red flag warns that a case is no longer good law for at least one of the points it contains, meaning that a case has been reversed, vacated, superseded, overruled, or abrogated in some respect. A yellow flag warns that a case has some negative history, meaning that a point of law contained in a case has been amended, modified, limited, or called into doubt, but not completely eviscerated. A blue letter H indicates that a case has some history, but no known negative history, which generally means that a case contains a point of law that has been appealed, affirmed, discussed, relied on as precedent, or otherwise cited as relevant authority.

KeyCite also employs graphical markers to signify the extent to which courts have subsequently relied on a case. Stars are used to reveal the extent to which one case discusses another: four stars indicate that a case has been "examined," meaning that the cited case has received more than a printed page of treatment in another decision; three stars indicate that a case has been "discussed," meaning that the cited case has received more than a paragraph of treatment in another decision, but less than a full printed page; two stars indicate that a case has been "cited," meaning that the cited case has received less than a paragraph of treatment in another decision; and one star indicates that a case has been "mentioned," meaning that the cited case has been briefly referenced in another decision.

Quotation marks are used in KeyCite displays to signify that a cited case has been quoted by another court. Based on the idea that cases cited more frequently tend to be more significant, KeyCite tallies citation counts for every case within its coverage. Although KeyCite coverage is not comprehensive, it is available for a growing number of types of authorities. Beginning coverage for state case citations varies according to jurisdiction. Citator coverage now also covers state and federal statutes.

KeyCite integrates many of the features already found on Westlaw. KeyCite results can be limited to a particular date range, so that only the most recent cases citing a particular precedent are displayed. They also can be restricted by jurisdiction, so lawyers in one state can focus on legal authority in their home jurisdictions, without being sidetracked by cases from foreign jurisdictions. Finally, KeyCite allows headnotes (i.e., summaries of legal rules and principles established by courts that are added by West Group editors to cases published in the National Reporter System) from particular cases to be traced through subsequent opinions.


Keycite official web site. Available online at <www.keycite.com> (accessed November 21, 2003).

Teshima, Daryl. 1999. "Cite Wars: Shepard's v. KeyCite." Law Office Computing 9 (Oct-Nov).


Citator; Westlaw®.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Jokes to Robert Marion La Follette