Skip to main content

Legal Resources: Digests and Shepard's

Finding Aids and Checking Citations

Finding relevant court cases can be tricky.  Digests can help locate relevant cases.  Each time a case is reported, something called a headnote is added to the beginning of the case.  Most cases include several headnotes.  Headnotes describe the case as it pertains to a specific area of law.  These headnotes are then gathered into sets called digests.  All headnotes on a particular area of law are then grouped together.  You can read the headnotes within the area of law you are interested in to find relevant cases. All digests are arranged by subject in the exact same way so that you can move between digests seamlessly.

 Legal researchers also wish to see how a particular case or decision has been used over time.  Often times a case will be cited as a precedent in another case.  A lawyer may argue that these similar cases were decided in the same way as this current case and so my case should be decided similarly.  Important cases may be cited many times by lawyers. By looking at the history of a how a case has been cited, you can find similar cases, find precedents, and discover if your case would make a good precedent.  The tool used in this type of research is called a citator. Originally they were published by a company called Shepard's and that name is still used.  Over time the process of researching citations has been named Sherpardizing.  The library has Shepard's for Illinois and Supreme court cases.  They are not up-to-date as Shepardizing is so much easier to do online.  Paralegal students have access to Westlaw and Lexis for this purpose, the Campus Research database is available to everyone here and can also be to research citations.  If you are not a current Harper student or employee you must come on campus to use the Campus Research database.