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A Brief Guide to Legal Citation

In all likelihood, everyone has come across a legal citation in the course of their studies or heard a reference to one on programs such as “Law &Order.” Most people understand nothing more than the case name and the year. They are at a total loss to understand the rest of the citation, much less how its misuse can affect the quality of their dissertation or other academic assignment.

Understanding Legal Citations

To understand legal citations, let us examine the citation for a case many of you may have heard about in one way or another … Miranda v Arizona:
Miranda v Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)

The first and last parts are easy to understand. The case was between Miranda and the State of Arizona and was decided in 1966. The numbers and letters in between are where most people get lost. This portion is read in a “volume – publication – page” format. It may seem illogical to put the volume before the publication until you go to read it out loud. The above citation is read, for example, in this manner:
In the case of Miranda versus the State of Arizona, found in volume 384 of the United States Reports, page 436, was decided in 1966.

This information tells us another thing, though only if we understand a particular nuance of legal citation: the United States Reports publication covers only Supreme Court decisions. Therefore, Miranda v Arizona was decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1966. Some citations will list multiple references which are read like a reverse-bread crumb path, leading back through the various court decisions to the associated court of origin or to the associated state Supreme Court.

Historical Citations

In the early years, case decisions were not formally published but were collected and published by the official Reporter of Court Decisions and were cited by the volume and last name of the publisher. As the volume of case reports grew, so did the need for formal publication of the decisions and the creation of a more concise citation model.

The Future of Legal Citation

Today, we face a new citation environment. Due to the incredible technology of computers and the Internet, the environment of legal citations is quickly changing. Until very recently, courts held that if a case had not been officially published in one of the “Reporters,” any decisions in it were irrelevant and could not be cited in support of subsequent case arguments. On average, less than one in ten cases are ever published, meaning the vast amount of potential precedence was off-limits … until now. The changes brought on by computers and the Internet has brought a great deal of pressure upon the legal community to find a better way of citing the newly available materials.

Current proposals are to shift to a “Venue – Date – Case ID” format in which the venue would be an abbreviated format of the deciding court or body’s designation. Such change would separate the court decision from its publication, establishing a unique identifier for each case and allowing for more universal and consistent citation.

How We Can Help

Expert researchers and writers like those that work for our company can help clear the air of mystique that surrounds legal citation and research. Through state-of-the-art techniques and software, even legal matters can be quickly researched, documented and organized into concise reports and persuasive arguments by our writers, ready for you to turn in or, if you are already a member of the “Bar,” to present in court. Today, simple citation of legal cases is insufficient. Many courts limit the application of precedence to cases similar to the original case. Citation must be mixed with persuasive argument on why a given precedence should be applied to the present case that may be very different from the original case.

Additionally, there may be extensive, but contradictory precedence related to the case which must be sifted through, interpreted, and creatively applied to the current situation. Writers such as those who work for us are use to working in this kind of environment, often being called upon to analyze and evaluate a large amount of information and to draw rational and logical conclusions from the information available, much as is required in the environment of legal reporting and citation. Contact us today for further information about how our writers can assist you with your next major project.

Older posts:
ASA Citation Style - Aug 08, 2011
Turabian Citation Style - Aug 08, 2011
Chicago Citation Style - Aug 08, 2011
Oxford Referencing Style - Aug 08, 2011
AMA Citation Style - Aug 08, 2011

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