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How to Read a Legal Citation   Tags: 1l, basic, citation, firstyear, introduction, legal  

This is a brief introduction designed for beginning first year law students on how to read a legal citation.
Last Updated: Sep 17, 2013 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Say you have been asked to read Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483.

This is an example of a legal citation to a case. Citations are abbreviated references to legal sources, such as court reporters, statutory compilations, and law reviews. Citations generally follow this standard format:

Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)

Party Names




Brown v. Board of Education

Volume number

Abbreviated Court Reporter Title

Page or Section Number


The difficulty with citations lies in deciphering the abbreviations of the source title. The Bluebook lists the abbreviations used for each court reporter, statutory compilation and law review. In the above example, U.S. stands for United States Reports, a publication of United States Supreme Court decisions.

So now you know that Brown v. Board of Education is located in volume 347, page 483 of the United States Reports.


Parallel Citations

However, opinions of certain courts are often published in more than one court reporter. Citations to the same case in different reporters are called parallel citations. For example, opinions of the US Supreme Court may be found in three different court reporters:

  • United States Reports (U.S.), published by the US government, this is the official reporter,
  • Supreme Court Reporter (S.Ct.), an unofficial reporter published by West Publishing and
  • United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyer's Edition (L.Ed.), another unofficial reporter published by Lexis Publishing.

So your citation might look like this:

Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873

Official Citation

Parallel Citation

Parallel Citation

 347 U.S. 483

 74 S. Ct. 686

 98 L. Ed. 873


Legal Citation Materials

Here is a list of materials, available at the Heafey Law Library, which may be helpful in understanding the basics of legal citation.

Electronic Services Reference Law Librarian

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