Academic Success Resources for Students: Legal Citation Style

The standard for legal citation in law schools and in most courts in the United States is The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation. This system establishes rules for properly citing to legal materials, setting forth the required elements of a citation, proper format, abbreviations, and signal use. Legal Research and Writing courses and Moot Court competitions require your briefs to comply with The Bluebook.

A typical case citation looks like:

Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 481, 85 S. Ct. 1678, 14 L. Ed. 2d 510 (1965).

From this citation, we can tell that:

  • it is a U.S. Supreme Court case, because the reporter is abbreviated "U.S." That means United States Reports, the official reporter that publishes U.S. Supreme Court cases;
  • it was published in the 381st volume of the United States Reports;
  • the case begins on page 479 of that volume;
  • the author citing the case is referring to something on page 481 of the case; i.e., the "pincite" is page 481;
  • the case was published in 1965; and
  • unofficial reporters, the Supreme Court Reporter ("S. Ct.") and the Lawyers' Edition ("L. Ed.") also published this case. 

Many California practitioners use the California Style Manual for citation in briefs before state courts. It is also available online via Westlaw.

The ALWD Guide to Legal Citation is an alternative system used in numerous law schools and by a few law journals. It is considered more straightforward and easier to learn than the Bluebook.

Print copies of The Bluebook are available at the Circulation and Reference desks, as well as in the Research Alcove.

Online Sources for Legal Citation Style

Legal Citation in a Nutshell by Larry L. Teply

The beloved Nutshell series takes on legal citation and focuses on the big picture and fundamental principles of citation. Covers Bluebook and ALWD formats.

Citation Form for Briefs and Legal Memoranda, an online lesson by CALI

Learn to properly cite cases, statutory materials, and secondary sources.

California Style Manual, an online lesson by CALI

Learn the fundamentals of the California Style Manual system of citation, used in California state courts.

Books about Legal Citation Style

Prince's Dictionary of Legal Citations: A Reference Guide for Attorneys, Legal Secretaries, Paralegals and Law Students, by Mary Miles Prince

This companion to The Bluebook lists commonly-used sources alphabetically and provides sample citations to them.

Using the California Style Manual and The Bluebook: A Practitioner's Guide, by Susan Heinrich-Wells

A companion to both citation guides, this book helps practitioners determine which style to use, and points out the differences between the two styles.