How to Read a Legal Citation

This is a brief introduction designed for beginning first year law students on how to read a legal citation.

Reading a citation to a State Code

States may or may not differ from the federal model. For example, Ohio follows the federal model but California differs slightly. Instead of title numbers, California code citations refer to title names.  Also, remember that California does not have an "official" code publisher.  There are two companies, West and Deering, which publish the California code.  You must include the publisher in the parenthetical.

A citation to the California Unruh Civil Rights Act law looks like this:

Cal Civ. Code § 51 (Deering 2001)

Cal Civ. Code

§ 51

(Deering 2001)

Title Name

Section Number

Publisher and Year of Publication


Remember: if you do not recognize a reporter or statutory compilation abbreviation, check the Bluebook.

The Bluebook rule for citing a code section is 12.3.  Pay particular attention to the year of the code you are citing.  Only if the statute had been amended since the principal volume was published would you then also cite to a supplement or a more recent electronic compilation.  If you are citing to the supplement you would reflect that in the citation.  If the the reader would have to compile both the supplement, or pocket part, together with the principal volumbe then you would cite both in parentheses.


Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 21091 (West Supp. 1990)

Cal. Lab. Code § 5304 (Deering 1976)

Cal. Gov't Code § 825 (West Supp. 1998)

Cal. Veh. Code § 11509 (West 1987 & Supp. 1991)

Sources of the California Code

There are two publishers of the California Code, West and Deering.  These sets are available in print and electronically.

Print Sources

Deering's Annotated California Code KFC30.5.D4

West's Annotated California Code KFC30.5 .W4

Electronic Sources

LegInfo - Website run by the State of California

Lexis/Nexis (CACODE)

WestLaw (CA-ST-ANN)

Heafey Law Library Research Team