Legal Citations

Finding Cases and Journal Articles

Journal Articles

Legal citations to articles in law journals (also called law reviews) should look familiar and be relatively easy to find. They will have:


However, before you can find cases (also called opinions or decisions), you need to be able to interpret legal citations. Case citations for the U.S. Supreme Court use the form:
     case name    volume number    case reporter abbreviation    page number    year

So the 1976 case Alamo Land & Cattle Co. v. Arizona is found in volume 428 of the United States Reports. It begins on page 295.

Case citations for other courts use the form:
     case name    volume number    case reporter abbreviation     page number    name of the court    year

So the 1978 case Zim v. Western Publishing Co. is found in volume 573 of the Federal Reporter, 2nd series. It begins on page 1318. It is a case from the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

While the case name is self-evident, translating the case reporter abbreviations can be tricky. Common abbreviations are:

Abbreviation Title Notes
U.S. United States Reports The official reporter for United States Supreme Court cases.
S. Ct. Supreme Court Reporter An unofficial reporter for United States Supreme Court cases.
L.Ed. or L.Ed. 2d Lawyers' Edition, United States Supreme Court Reports Another unofficial reporter for United States Supreme Court cases.
F., F.2d, or F.3d Federal Reporter, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Series The federal reporter for the United States Circuit Courts of Appeal.
F. Supp or F. Supp.2d Federal Supplement, 1st or 2nd series The federal reporter for the United States District Courts opinions.
S.W., S.W.2d, or S.W.3d South Western Reporter, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Series 1 of the 7 regional reporters. Has cases from the highest state-level courts in Texas (also AR, KY, MO, and TN).

If you have trouble interpreting a legal citation or reporter abbreviation, you may refer to:

Case Law Research Guide
Clear and succint explanations from Georgetown Law Library. Includes general information on reporters and also parallel citations.
Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations Used in American Law Books
Compiled by Doris M. Bieger. 2nd ed. Buffalo, NY: W.S. Hein, 1985.
KF 246 .B46 1985 (Reference)

Citing Cases and Journal Articles

For any class assignment, students should follow the citation style assigned by the instructor. For any gray areas in the rules of citation, the only authority is the instructor's preference.

Journal Articles

If you are citing an article in a law journal/law review:

For a law journal article found in the databases LexisNexis Academic and WestlawNext (and sometimes Legal Collection), citations will be as exemplified below, since DOIs (Digital Object Identifiers) are not assigned:


Generally, if you are citing a case, refer to the style manual for your assignment (APA, MLA, etc.) It will probably give some brief examples and refer you to The Bluebook. 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. 19th ed., 2010. Published by the Harvard Law Review Association.
KF 245 .B58 2010 (Reference)
  • The Bluepages are written for attorneys and law clerks using legal citations in court documents.
  • The Whitepages are written for use in academic writing, such as law journal and law review articles. One difference is that the Whitepages uses footnotes instead of in-text citations.
Bluebook Guide
A guide for beginners to the Bluebook; intended as a supplement. Would be most useful for a prelaw student.
Introduction to Basic Legal Citation (Online Ed. 2014)
Indexed to the 19th edition of the Bluebook, which is the standard used for most legal journals and is usually required by courts for briefs and memoranda. Also indexed to the 5th edition of the ALWD (Association of Legal Writing Directors) Guide to Legal Citation. ALWD rules now conform to Bluebook rules, but may be the better book in teaching legal citation rules to students.
The Greenbook: Texas Rules of Form
12th ed., 2006. Published by the Texas Law Review, University of Texas at Austin School of Law.
Z UA345.5 T312RUF 2010 (Documents - Texas)
  • The Greenbook will have detailed information on how to cite numerous Texas-specific publications. It follows recommended Bluebook style.

To see examples of case citations, you may refer to:

Basic Legal Citation
An in-depth list of examples from LII (Legal Information Institute).
Bluebook Legal Citations: Citing Court Cases
Brief overview and short list of examples from the University of Houston Downtown.

Any questions? Ask a Librarian or call us at (806) 651-2205.