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Help! How do I cite legal materials in my papers?

As a paralegal student, or as a student who needs to cite a case or a statute in a paper, you may be wondering how to get started.  It may seem overwhelming to have both the Bryant & Stratton College APA Style Guide and the Bluebook sitting in front of you when you do not know which one is applicable to your paper. The first thing you need to know is that the Bryant & Stratton College APA Style Guide controls the vast majority of your paper.  It will assist you in setting up your margins, spacing your paper, and in creating the basic in-text citations and references you will need, among other things. 

The only time you need the Bluebook is to cite primary legal materials. What are primary legal materials? 

 These include cases, statutes, and administrative rules and regulations.  For everything else, use the Bryant & Stratton College APA Style Guide. How to Cite a Case in the References page:  The Bluebook will show you how to cite a case.  Rule 10 in the Bluebook teaches us that the basic triad of a case citation is the volume number, the reporter abbreviation, and the page number.  You need these three components to cite a case even when you locate the case online, such as through WESTLAW or via a webpage.  A case citation triad looks like this:  544 U.S. 1, where “544” is the volume number and “1” is the page number.  (Yes, we do mean the 544th volume on the shelf! )  

“U.S.” is the reporter abbreviation.  You may find reporter abbreviations in Table 1 of the Bluebook. The next piece you need in a case citation is the parenthetical.  The parenthetical tells the reader the year and may also share the court and jurisdiction of the case.  A parenthetical can look like this:  (S.D.N.Y. 2000) or like this: (2012).

Finally, you will need to lead off with the party names, such as Tenet v. Doe.  Italicize the names; do not underline them.  Use “v.” but never “vs.” or “V.”   Rule 10.2 of the Bluebook goes into great detail as to how you should shorten the party names down from something like “George J. TENET, Individually, Porter J. Goss, Director of Central Intelligence and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and United States, Petitioners, v. John DOE, et ux.” When you put these components together, a case citation looks like this: Tenet v. Doe, 544 U.S. 1 (2005). Once you have your case citation, it should go into the references page along with all of your other references.

How to Cite a Case as an in-text citation

When you are discussing your case in your paper, you will need an in-text citation for it, the same as you would for any other source.  For the in-text citation, simply use the party names and the date. Examples Tenet v. Doe (2005) has held that spies cannot sue the CIA to enforce espionage contracts. ~or~ In Tenet v. Doe (2005), the court wrote, “We think the Court of Appeals was quite wrong in holding that Totten does not require dismissal of respondents’ claims” (p. 8). In later blog posts, we will go through how to cite statutes and how to cite administrative rules and regulations.  I hope that this first part will help you to understand the role the Bluebook plays in your papers.  Far from being a competing guide, it is a vital supplement that will allow you to cite legal materials in your papers in a standard, professional manner. If you have any questions about this post, or about citing legal materials in general, please contact me at on.kreisler.brandy@mail.bryantstratton.edu . Happy Bluebooking!  

About the Author Brandy Kreisler has taught online for more than six years, and is passionate about legal research and writing. Ms. Kreisler holds a law degree from Texas Tech School of Law and a Masters of Library and Information Science from the University of Washington, where she specialized in legal research.


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