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Legal Research Basics


The Bluebook is the citation system used by the legal profession. It is one of the more complex systems of citation and the Research Librarians can help you as you learn to read and interpret legal citations. The library has copies of the Bluebook available for checkout behind the circulation desk. Below are a few of the most common types of citation that you will see and how to interpret them. 

Case Citations

Case citations are generally made up the following elements: name of the parties, the volume number of the reporter, the name of the reporter (abbreviated), the first page of the case, the pinpoint (if applicable), the name of the court (unless it is the Supreme Court), and the year the case was decided. 



Legislation Citations

As legislation moves through the process of becoming law, the citation will reflect what stage of that process it is in. Official and privately published session laws report statutes in chronological order of enactment. Below is the same piece of legislation, with each of its different names for each stage (these are not the full Bluebook citations). 


Federal Legislation starts out as a bill. Once the bill is passed, it is first published in a form that is called a "slip law." The law in this form is published by itself in an unbound pamphlet.

The collection of every law, public and private, ever enacted by the Congress, published in order of the date of its passage if in the United States Statutes at Large (also referred to as the "session laws").





California laws start out as a bill. Once the bill is passed, it is Chaptered and then published in the Statutes of California (also referred to as the "session laws").



Statues/Codes Citations

Once enacted, bills and joint resolutions become statutes and they are published ("codified") in an official publication. Official and unofficial codes arrange statutes currently in force by subject./topic.

Each enacted law is often referred to as an act, which may have an official or popular name (e.g., "Unruh Civil Rights Act" and "Clean Water Act"). Often, statutory codes will have a popular name table or index, which lists acts alphabetically by name and provides citations to enable you to find them in the codes.


The official code for federal statutes if the United States Code. Each code citation includes: the title number (each title represents a different area of the law), an abbreviated name of code, the section number preceded by the section symbol (§), and it may include additional subjections, if relevant. 




There is no official code in California. As of July 1, 2015, the California Constitution, statutes, and California Codes are published as authenticated electronic legal materials. The Bluebook instructs users to cite to either of the two unofficial codes: West's Annotated California Codes or Deering's California Codes, Annotated (Lexis).

Some states may organize their statutes/codes by title, chapter, volume, or subject-matter. California uses subject-matter. Each state will format this information differently. State statutes/codes do need to include the date of the volume it was published in to be properly cited. California also requires the name of the publisher of the code. 



Legal Abbreviations

Legal citations often include many abbreviations, so you may want to utilize Princes Dictionary of Legal Citation (available in the library) as well as the Bluebook's own abbreviation tables to identify any abbreviations you are not familiar with. Here is a short list of some common abbreviations.