Legal Citations

Interpreting Legal Citations

Before you can begin finding cases, you need to be able to interpret legal citations. When reading about a case, you will see a reference along the lines of:

Alamo Land & Cattle Co. v. Arizona, 428 US 295 (1976)

and will want to find the case. Legal citations are always given in the form:

case name,    volume number    case reporter abbreviation    page number    (year)

Therefore Alamo Land & Cattle Co. v. Arizona, 428 US 295 (1976) refers to a particular case, Alamo Land & Cattle Co v. Arizona, the text of which begins on page 295 of volume 428 in the United States Reports. Journal citations are given the same way, such as:

Malken, Jeffrey, "Stolen Photographs: Personality, Publicity, and Privacy", 75 Tex.L.Rev. 779 (1997)

The case name is pretty self-evident. The tricky part is translating the case reporter abbreviations. The most common abbreviations are:

Abbreviation Title Notes
US United States Reports The official reporter for United States Supreme Court cases.
SCt Supreme Court Reporter An unofficial reporter for United States Supreme Court cases.
L.Ed. Lawyers' Edition, United States Supreme Court Reports Another unofficial reporter for United States Supreme Court cases.
F.2d or F.3d Federal Reporter, 2nd or 3rd Series The reporter for the United States Circuit Courts of Appeal.
F.Supp or F.Supp.2d Federal Supplement, 1st or 2nd series The reporter for the United States District Courts opinions.
S.W., S.W.2d, or S.W.3d Southwestern Reporter, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Series The reporter for the highest courts in selected states, including Texas.

If you have trouble interpreting a reporter abbreviation, you should check:

Dictionary of legal abbreviations used in American law books
compiled by Doris M. Bieger. 2nd ed. Buffalo, NY : W.S. Hein, 1985.
KF246.B46 1985 Reference

Citing Cases and Journal Articles

For instructions on how to cite legal sources properly, check:

The Bluebook: a uniform system of citation
compiled by the editors of the Columbia law review, the Harvard law review, the University of Pennsylvania law review, and the Yale law journal. 16th ed. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard Law Review Association, 1996.
KF245.B58 1996 Reference
Introduction to Basic Legal Citation (2006 ed.)
Based on the 18th edition of the Bluebook, which is the standard used for most legal journals and is usually required by courts for briefs and memoranda.
Texas rules of form
Texas law review. 9th ed. Austin, Tex. : University of Texas at Austin School of Law Publications, 1997.
Z UA345.5 T312ruf 1997 Texas Documents
AALL Universal Citation Guide, Version 2.1
A proposal from the American Association of Law Libraries on a vendor-neutral way to cite judicial decisions, constitutions, statutes, and administrative regulations, with rules for citing law reviews and court rules.

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