Review of Free Citators Available in AltLaw & PreCYdent

Both PreCYdent and AltLaw have come out with citators. Remember that these are both public-domain search engines offering cases and statutes for free on the Internet.
When viewing a case in AltLaw, you’ll notice that cases cited by your case appear on the left and cases which cite it are on the right. Both lists are in reverse chronological order. Very straight forward and easy to use. Nothing extra to click.
Note that there is no indication, however, of the treatment of the citing cases (i.e. the red and yellow indicators you’ll find in Shepards or KeyCite).


I knew that PreCYdent had introduced a citator because I’d seen the press release, but it took me quite a while to find it. I finally located it in the bar over on the right with a bunch other buttons – I’ve circled them in the screen shot above.
There are two citator buttons (both of which are quite cryptic looking). The first is labeled Citations and it “shows citing and cited opinions.” This is pretty much the same as the citator in AltLaw, although I’m not sure in what order the cases are appearing.
The second button is labeled Citator and it “shows judicial actions done by and on the present case.” In other words: treatment. There are two columns: In-Citator shows all the actions taken by other cases regarding the current case. For example, the In-Citator will show if the current case has been overruled, reversed, or otherwise acted up, by a higher court. The Out-Citator column shows any actions the current case has taken regarding another case, for example, it the current case overrules, reverses, or takes another recorded action regarding a lower court opinion.
My opinion:
When I say citator, most people think of Shepards or KeyCite. Be warned: the citators in AltLaw and PreCYdent aren’t in the same league as the two giants. But, hey, they’re free and free is good – in some cases anyway.
Although AltLaw is easy to use, it lacks the added features of the others. Lack of treatment analysis makes it much less useful in oft-cited opinions since one would have to follow through on all of the citations individually.
PreCYdent, on the other hand, offers the treatment analysis, but is confusing to use.
And neither of the free citators offer the added value features that are available with Shepards and KeyCite, such as other citing sources (articles, legislation, regs), depth of treatment indicators, visual history, etc.
But most importantly, I think, is that the free guys just aren’t proven yet. What is the depth of coverage? Will it pick up all the important cases? One must feel a fair degree of trust in a citator. Are you ready to rely on a free one in preparing your brief?
My advice? If it’s important, spend the money on the big boys – at least at this point. But keep your eye on the little guys because they are making amazing progress towards providing open access for the law.