A legal citation is a reference to a legal authority where particular information, such as a case or statute, can be located. Legal citations are often confusing because they differ from references used in other types of research.


Case Citation

A case citation will have a volume number, a reporter and a page number.


  265 US 274


Volume number where the case appears



Abbreviation for the title set of books reporting the case

  274 Page number on which the case begins

Often a case will be reported in several different reporters. These additional cites are known as parallel citations. Two examples of parallel citation are given here:

-- United States Supreme Court Case --
491 U.S. 397
109 S. Ct 2533 105 L.Ed.2d 342

-- Michigan Supreme Court Case --
416 Mich. 63 330 N.W.2d 366

U.S. Supreme Court decisions are reported in three reporters listed in this example: United States Supreme Court Reports (U.S. - the official government publication); Supreme Court Reporter by West Publishing (S.Ct. - an unofficial reporter); and, United States Supreme Court Reporter, Lawyer's Edition published by the Lawyers Cooperative Publishing Company (L.Ed.2d - another unofficial reporter). They are also printed in US Law Week, a Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) publication and unofficial for court purposes. Any of the unofficial reporters will work for research citation purposes unless your professor tells you otherwise.

NOTE: You only need to look at one of the four sources, however, since each is reporting the same US Supreme Court decisions.

Case Example

Schoonover v. Black Bros. Co, 914, F.2d, 258 (6th Cir. 1990 ).

Schoonover v. Black Bros. Co

the parties' names; in the citation, names are underlined and are followed by a comma and a lower case "v." replaces "versus"

914 Reporter volume number followed by a comma
F.2d Reporter name (abbreviated ) followed by a comma
258 The first page of the case in that volume
6th Cir. 1990 The court and the year of decision is enclosed in parentheses and followed with a period

Statute Citation Example

42 U.S.C § 405(a) (1988).

42 Number
U.S.C Code title abbreviated (in this case this is the United States Code)
§ 405(a) (1988). Page/paragraph and date

Law Review Article Citation Example

Dan T. Coenen, The Constitutional Case, 75, Minn. L. Rev 1339, 1341 (1991).

Dan T. Coenen


The Constitutional Case

Title of article

75 volume
Minn. L. Rev Title of law review abbreviated (Minnesota Law Review)

1339, 1341

(1991). Date of journal publication in parenthesis.

Lexis Nexis Example

Note that in this example Lexis/Nexis provides all parallel citations to this case.


L.A. No. 30555

Supreme Court of California

18 Cal. 3d 450; 556 P.2d 1090; 1976 Cal. LEXIS 364; 134 Cal. Rptr. 639; 2 Media L. Rep. 1175

Citations Decoded:

BRIGHT v. LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCH. DIST. (the case name of the current case by plaintiff and defendant)

L.A. No. 30555 (pending)

Supreme Court of California, 18 Cal. 3d 450 (Volme 18 of the California Reports, Third Series, page 450)

556 P.2d 1090 (Volume 556 of the Pacific Reporter, Second Series page 1090)

1976 Cal. LEXIS 364 (year and page in Lexis Cites for California)

134 Cal. Rptr. 639 (Volume 134 of the California Reporter, page 639, from West's)

2 Media L. Rep. 1175  (Volume 2 of the Media Law Reporter, page 1175, another BNA publication)