Understanding the Rules of Legal Citation

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January 26, 2022
Author: Lorman Education

What are the rules of legal citations?

Proper citation of legal documents ensures that others can find the information cited. Legal citation refers to the process of notating reference of a legal quote or proposition. Law students, judges, lawyers, paralegals and other legal professionals rely on legal citations to find out the sources of certain information.

There are various methods used to cite legal sources. Here are three:

1. Bluebook

Many law scholars and professionals are versed with the bluebook method of citation. This is a manual that is published through collaboration of various universities including Yale, Harvard and Columbia Universities. It provides the standard rules for citation of legal documents.

Bluebook citation involves the following:

  1. Begin the citation with the last name of the author or speaker.
  2. The name of the author should be followed with an abbreviation for the document cited
  3. Write the page number followed by a period to end the citation. 
  4. Place the citation directly after the declaration referring to the source cited. Use parenthetical marks to distinguish the text in the brief from the citation. 



This stands for the Association of Legal Writing Directors. This is a relatively new manual for legal citations created to be an alternative to the Bluebook. The creation of the ALWD manual began in 1997 and was published in 2000. Over the last two decades, many law schools have adopted this method of legal citation. 

There is a slight variation between the ALWD method and the Bluebook method of legal citation. However, the general format used in citations is basically the same. Practitioners should ensure that they check the various court rules regarding citation to ensure that the method they are using has been adopted by those courts.

3. Citing Police Reports

There are certain tricky situations with legal citation especially with regard to police reports. Bluebook citation does not cover citing police reports. Yet, police reports can be included in the record of a case. However, there are certain steps practitioners can follow to cite police reports:

  1. Obtain a copy of the record that will have the police report enclosed in it.
  2. Go through the record to find the specific page of the report. Write down the page number.
  3. The record can now be cited in a legal writing by a set of parenthesis. Begin by writing “R.at” then the page number of the police report in the record. This informs the judge of the specific page number of the record so that they can take a look at the police report. 

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