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Uniform System of Legal Citation Basics
Sources listed in almost all legal publications are cited by using the Uniform System of Legal Citation, commonly known as the Bluebook. This style looks very different from the other more widely used and familiar styles such as Turabian, MLA and APA. To the novice it looks like a meaningless series of numbers and letters. But just about every legal source will use it and once you've "cracked the code", it's easy to follow. An explanation of the system is given in the boxes below.
Using the Uniform System of Legal Citation
When using this sytem, keep these important points in mind.
- The abbreviations to the sources are standardized so that the
same abbreviation will almost always stand for the same source no
matter what source is being used. Also the number of the larger division of a source will always be listed before the abbreviation. The number for the smaller division of the source will always be listed after the abbreviation. (See the "How to Read a Legal Citation" in the box below.)
- If a document is published in more than one source, all of
the sources where that document is published will be listed. This is especially true for case law. It will look like a long string of numbers and letters but by knowing how to divide the citations, you'll be able to identify where the document is published.
- Almost all legal sources prefer that the print
version be cited, so when citing a source that's been
found online, care must be taken to cite the print version as well.
How to Read a Legal Citation
These examples show two typical legal citations.
In the top example, the source is the United States Code. This source is divided into large divisions called titles and each title is divided into parts. So this citation would be read as "Title 40, part 6201 of the United States Code".
In the bottom example, the source is the Federal Register which is a daily periodical and like many other periodicals is divided into volumes and pages. So this citation would be read as "Volume 52, page 39278 of the Federal Register".
Abbreviations of Some Commonly Used Legal Sources
The enitre list of abbreviations can be found in Prince's Bieber Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations (see the "Legal Citation Sources" box below) but here are listed some of the most commonly used abbreviations along with the full title of the source.
A.2d or A.3d
Atlantic Reporter Second Series (2d) or Third Series (3d)
Code of Federal Regulations
F. 2d or F.3d
Federal Reporter Second Series (F. 2d) or Federal Reporter Third Series (F.3d)
Rhode Island Reports
General Laws of Rhode Island
Supreme Court Reporter
United States Statutes at Large
United States Reports
United States Code Service
Legal Citation Sources
The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Legal Citation
Reserves KF245 B58
Manual on the most extensively used legal style and citation. Lists the correct way to cite all legal resources and includes a list of the standardized abbreviations.
Introduction to Basic Legal Citation
Basic introduction to legal citation style, how to cite basic sources and differences between the Bluebook and ALWD Citation Manual, an alternate legal citation style.
Nexis Uni (LexisNexis)
News, law, and business information service. Includes news from national and international newspapers; wire services and articles from hundreds of periodicals; and a number of other reference sources. All sources are full-text. Updated daily.
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