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How to Read a Legal Citation   Tags: legal_citations  

A guide to deciphering those cryptic legal citations.
Last Updated: Oct 2, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts
How to Read a Legal Citation Print Page

Reference Sources for Translating Legal Abbreviations

When you locate citations for cases you want to use, you may need help figuring out what these citations mean.  The following list contains sources for translating legal abbreviations.  Also, be sure to visit the guide "How to Read a Legal Citation" for additional assistance.

The front of each Digest volume
If you have located the correct digest for your jurisdiction, you will find a list of abbreviations used in that digest in the front of each volume.

The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation
Call Number: KF245 .B58 (Location: Reference & Reserve)
The format followed by Law Reviews.

Cover Art
Prince's Bieber Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations: A Reference Guide for Attorneys, Legal Secretaries, Paralegals and Law Students. - by Mary Miles Prince
Call Number: KF246 .B46 2009 (Location: Reference)
ISBN: 083771625X
The best guide for deciphering cryptic abbreviations.

Cover Art
California Style Manual: A Handbook of Legal Style for California Courts and Lawyers - by Edward W. Jessen
Call Number: KFC75 .C35 2000 (Location: Reference & Reserve)
ISBN: 0314233709
THE source for court citation in California.

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The ALWD Citation Manual: A Professional System of Citation
Call Number: KF245 .A45 2006 (Location: Reference & Reserve)
ISBN: 0735589305
An alternative to the Bluebook that hasn't quite caught on...

Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations (Online Resource)
Web-based service allows you to search for the meaning of abbreviations for English language legal publications, from the British Isles, the Commonwealth and the United States, including those covering international and comparative law. A wide selection of major foreign language law publications is also included.

Guide to Foreign and International Legal Citations
Call Number: K89 .G85 2006 (Location: Stacks)
Also available online. Folow link and look for "Online Access" icon.


Definition of a Legal Citation

A citation (or cite) in legal terminology is a reference to a specific legal source, such as a constitution, a statute, a reported case, a treatise, or a law review article.  A standard citation includes first the volume number, then the title of the source, (usually abbreviated) and lastly, a page or section number.


Case Citations

Case citations designate the volume number of the reporter in which the case appears, the name of the reporter, the page on which the case begins, and the year the decision was rendered.  Thus, each citation is unique.  Cases, or judicial opinions, can be published by more than one publisher.  If this occurs, the case name may be followed by one or more “parallel citations.”  The official reporter is the one with whose publisher the court has contracted to publish the reports; any other citation is called “unofficial.”  (Sometimes a case will have only an unofficial citation, such as in the Federal Reporter; then the “unofficial” cite will be listed alone.)  The text of the opinions will be the same in the official or unofficial sources, but the unofficial may contain additional editorial features which differ from the official.
In California, the State Supreme Court cases are published officially in the California Reports, series 1-4; the Court of Appeals cases are officially published in the California Appellate Reports, series 1-4.  Unofficial reports are published by West; Supreme Court and Appellate Court decisions are published together in the West’s California Reporter, series 1, 2 & 3.  The Supreme Court decisions are also published in the Pacific Reporter, series 1, 2 & 3. 

Here are examples of citations for California:

Federal cases are cited in the same format as California cases.  For United States Supreme Court cases, the official reports, United States Reports, (abbreviated “US”) are published by the U.S. Government.  There are two parallel citations for Supreme Court cases: those published by West in the Supreme Court Reporter are abbreviated “S.Ct.”; those published by LexisNexis, the United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers’ Edition, are abbreviated “L.Ed.” or “L.Ed. 2d”  Court of Appeals cases, published only in West’s Federal Reporter, are abbreviated “F.,” “F. 2d.” or “F. 3d.”  Federal District Court cases are published only in West’s Federal Supplement, abbreviated “F. Supp.” or “F. Supp. 2d”  



Code Citations

Citations to California Codes do not begin with numbers; instead, the title of the code name is followed by the section number, the publisher, and the date of the volume (not the date the individual code section was enacted).  Parallel cites are not used for the code, since there is no official code for California.  The version of the unofficial code used (Deering’s or West) is indicated in the date portion of the citation.

Citations to the United States Code follow the same general format as cases; however, the first number refers to the title of the United States Code rather than a volume number, and the second number refers to the section number of the code rather than the page number.  Parallel cites are not used for the code, since the numbering is uniform for both official and unofficial codes.  The unofficial codes are designated by their own abbreviations, U.S.C.A. (West) and U.S.C.S. (LexisNexis). 

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