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Everything a 2L really needs to know about citation

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Legal Citations

Every first year law student is taught citations, most using the infamous 565-page Bluebook.  I doubt anyone covers the whole book.  But my impression is that most professors teach far more than most students will ever use.  And then, after the course is over, most students gradually forget what they learned.

After all, citation is not on the bar exam; if you work in a transactional practice, you may never use it again.  But if you are a litigator, there are certain basic rules you should be able to consistently get right.  If you get any of these wrong, people will notice.  Fortunately the basic rules can be outlined in less than two pages.

So here it is: everything a 2L really needs to know about citation.

To cite a case, start with the name. State the last name of the plaintiff (the first plaintiff, if there is more than one).  If the plaintiff is an entity, state the full name but abbreviate generic terms, like “Corp.”  Write “v.” not “vrs.” or “vs.” then the last name of the first defendant.  If the defendant is an entity, state the full name.  Underline the names of the parties.  And insert a comma after the names (do not underline the comma).

Then state where the case is located. Put the volume number for the case reporter. Then the abbreviated name of the case reporter.  The Supreme Court Reporters are U.S., L. Ed. and S. Ct.; the Federal Court of Appeals is F., F.2d or F.3d; and the Federal District Court (Trial Court) is F. Supp. or F. Supp. 2d.  Memorize those reporters as well as the state reporters for the state where you are going to practice.  Do not space between letters or letters and ordinals (e.g. F.2d).  Put the page number for the first page of the case.  Insert a comma, then put the number for the page cited.

And finish with the court that decided the case and the date. Start with an open parenthesis. For federal cases, abbreviate the circuit or district, as appropriate (e.g., 11th Cir. or M.D. Fla.).  For state cases, abbreviate the name of the court (e.g., Fla. Dist. Ct. App. or Fla. 2d DCA).  No abbreviation is needed if the reporter is for the federal or state Supreme Court only.  Put the year the case was decided.  Then close parenthesis, and finish with a period, so it looks like this:

Smith v. Jones, 112 F. Supp. 345, 350 (M.D. Fla. 1993).

If you cite the case and page again, use a signal. If there is no intervening cite, use Id. If you cite the case again but the page is different, add the new page, like this: Id. at 351.  If there is an intervening cite, and you cite the case again, do it like this: Smith, 112 F. Supp. at 351.

To cite a statute, just state where it is located. Start with the title number for the code or regulation (the name of the statute is usually omitted).  Then abbreviate the name of the un-annotated code or regulation.  The Federal Statutes are U.S.C., and the Code of Federal Regulations is C.F.R.  Memorize the names of the statutes and regulations for the state in which you plan to practice.  Put a section symbol, or two if citing multiple sections.  Then the number of the section and letters for any subsection, and finish with a period (the parenthetical including the date is often omitted as well), like this:

12 U.S.C. §122(a).

If you cite the statute again, use a signal. If there is no intervening cite, use Id. If you cite the statute again, but the section is different, do it like this: Id. §122(b). or §122(b).  Don’t use “at.”  If there is an intervening cite, and you cite the statute again, do it like this: 12 U.S.C. §122(a).

To quote the language from a case or statute, use these four rules. If the quote is in the text, use quotation marks.  To do a block quote, double space the text, then indent and single space the body of the quote, leaving out any quotation marks.  Left justify the citation for the quote; and then continue on with the text.  To alter text, use brackets [ ].  To omit words in text, use an ellipsis … (and add a fourth period if the ellipsis is at the end of a sentence).

That’s it.  After practicing law for approximately thirty years, that is, in my opinion, all the citation a 2L really needs to know.  If you practice in litigation and encounter anything else, you will obviously have to look up the correct form.  But those are all the forms the average student will encounter over and over again.  And those are the forms you need to get right; if you don’t, your mistake will stick out like a sore thumb.

Ben Fernandez Ben Fernandez teaches Legal Drafting at the University Of Florida Levin College Of Law. He previously taught Legal Methods, Legal Research and Objective Writing, Lawyering Process for Litigation Practice, and Transactional Drafting at Florida Coastal School of law. Before that he taught Legal Writing at Northeastern University School of Law.