Legal researchers are highly attuned to the importance of knowing if and how an authority has been cited. It’s the idea behind Shepard’s and KeyCite. The importance of determining whether something is still good based on how it has been cited is drilled into every law student from their first semester. Leaving aside issues of “good law,” Shepard’s and KeyCite are helpful for journal and law review articles because they show whether an article has been cited and help researchers find related articles. That’s why it can be very frustrating for legal researchers when they are faced with a tool that does not show how an article has been cited.
That is why it is so great to see the little arrow icons in NUSearch, Northwestern library’s catalog. NUSearch is the tool that helps you search across all of Northwestern’s physical and electronic collections. NUSearch has a feature they call “citation trails.” The system looks for citations to an article. If it finds some citations, you’ll see something that looks like this:
See those little arrows pointing out and down? Clicking brings you articles that are cited in this article. It’s like the table of authorities in a Shepard’s report. Clicking brings you articles that cite this article. That’s like the citing references tab on Westlaw.
There are some drawbacks to using this feature in legal research. All of the drawbacks relate to how this tool gathers information and who plays well with others. The information in NUSearch comes from many different databases. That’s how you’re able to search NUSearch and get results from JSTOR right alongside results from HeinOnline. The citation trails tool only pulls citation information from certain databases that share information with the company that runs NUSearch. The article that I used for the screenshot above is available through JSTOR so it has citation trails. Most notably for legal researchers, results from HeinOnline do not have the citation trails feature. This is very frustrating because HeinOnline results are included in NUSearch. The law library is exploring ways to get HeinOnline included in citation trails.
Citation trials are also not available for results from Lexis or Westlaw, but that’s not surprising because NUSearch doesn’t search Lexis and Westlaw. Let’s just say Lexis and Westlaw like to do their own thing and leave it at that, shall we?
The upshot for legal researchers is that NUSearch is a great place to look for articles, especially when you’re moving beyond law into interdisciplinary research. It will search across many databases without you needing to know the name of the database that has psychology literature, for example. What’s better, NUSearch will have a citation feature like what you’re used to seeing with Lexis and Westlaw. So look out for those little arrows the next time you’re researching!