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Reading Legal Citations

Legal citations convey a lot of information about the referred to source in a very compact manner. The more you know about legal citations, the more information you can glean in a very short time.

What is a Citation?

A citation is a reference to a legal authority which may serve as a precedent such as a statute, a case, a regulation or a law review article.  Citations are used to establish or support the propositions argued.

Citations to legal materials follow a standard format which makes it possible for anyone using a law library to easily find cited cases, statutes, regulations, and law review articles.

Most legal citations consist of three basic parts:

1)    The name of the case, statute, or article;

2)    a statement of where the item can be found in a multi-volume set of legal materials written as:

      The volume number, name of publication (or set) and page number;

3)    a date.

A complete case citation looks like this:

      Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

Legal citations may also contain additional information, such as an author’s name or the court that issues a decision, which helps the reader determine how authoritative or credible an item is.

Recently several jurisdictions have adopted format- and vendor-neutral citation forms, and other jurisdictions are likely to follow.

This guide contains examples of citations to cases, statutes, regulations and law review articles with explanations of the various parts as well as a listing of some common legal abbreviations used in citations.