Quick Tips for Deciphering Legal Citations

Legal citations generally follow The Bluebook citation manual. Although the Bluebook itself is fairly complex, legal citations follow some very simple conventions.

Some examples of the types of citations you might see:

  • Statute: 16 USC 4246 or 16 USC § 4246
  • Regulation: 37 CFR 201.2 (2008)
  • Case: Bush v. Gore, 121 S. Ct. 525, 531 U.S. 98, 146 L. Ed 2d 388
  • Law review article: 49 Cath. U. L. Rev. 575 (2000)

Here are some tips for finding these types of citations:

  • To determine what the abbreviation stands for, check out the following sources:
    • Frequently Used Case Reporter Abbreviations
    • Frequently Requested Materials (Covers federal primary materials)
    • The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (Check the Tables)
      Law Reserve, Dictionaries, Reference, Annex Reference KF 245 B55 2005
    • Bieber's Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations
      Law Dictionary and Reserve K 89 B53 2001
    • Index to Legal Citations and Abbreviations (International sources)
      Law Ref Desk K 85 R3 2008

  • The number preceding the abbreviation is:
    • Cases, law journals, and most secondary materials: volume number
    • Statutes and Regulations: title number

  • The number following the abbreviation is:
    • Cases, law journals, and most secondary materials: page number where case or law review article starts
    • Statutes and Regulations: section number (may include a § symbol)

  • Dates in parentheses are:
    • Cases: Date of decision
    • Secondary sources, including law journals: Publication date of the item.
    • Statutes and regulations: Publication date of the volume

Parallel citations may be provided where the same court decision is printed in more than reporter, as in the example of Bush v. Gore above. This indicates that the decision is published by different publishing companies with additional information such as headnotes to assist researchers.

Remember, if you have any questions, please contact a reference librarian.

Page maintained by Stefanie Weigmann
Last updated: August 2012