Every first year law student is taught citations, most using the infamous 565 page “Blue Book.”  I doubt anyone covers the whole book.  Still, my impression is that most professors, including me, teach far more than most students will ever use.  And there are times when I think that strategy is embarrassingly ineffective.  Students end up not seeing the forest through the trees. They graduate the first year of law school, and they still make obvious mistakes doing even the simplest of citations.  For that reason, I’ve given second year students a very short outline of basic citation I call the “Blue Booklet.”  It is just one page (two sided) and covers only the citation forms that lawyers use all the time and should be able to consistently do correctly.  Here is the substance of what I have in the booklet, converted to a single page list of only the most basic rules of citation:

  • To cite a case, start with the name. State the last name of the plaintiff (the first plaintiff, if there is more than one). If the plaintiff is an entity, state the full name but abbreviate generic terms, like “Corp.” Write “v.” not “vrs.” or “vs.” then the last name of the first defendant. If the defendant is an entity, state the full name. Underline the names of the parties. And insert a comma after the names (do not underline the comma).
  • Then where the case is located. Put the volume number for the case reporter. Then the abbreviated name of the case reporter. The Supreme Court Reporters are U.S., L. Ed. and S. Ct.; the Federal Court of Appeals is F., F.2d or F.3d; and the Federal District Court (Trial Court) is F. Supp. or F. Supp. 2d. Memorize those reporters as well as the state reporters for the state where you are going to practice. Do not space between letters or letters and ordinals (e.g. F.2d). Put the page number for the first page of the case. Insert a comma, then put the number for the page cited.
  • And finish with the court that decided the case and the date. Start with an open parenthesis. For federal cases, abbreviate the circuit or district, as appropriate (e.g., 11th Cir. or M.D. Fla.). For state cases, abbreviate the name of the court (e.g., Fla. Dist. Ct. App. or Fla. 2d DCA). No abbreviation is needed if the reporter is for the federal or state Supreme Court only. Put the year the case was decided. Then close parenthesis, and finish with a period, so it looks like this:

Smith v. Jones, 112 F. Supp. 345, 350 (M.D. Fla. 1993).

  • If you cite the case and page again, use a signal. If there is no intervening cite, use Id. If you cite the case again but the page is different, add the new page, like this: Id. at 351. If there is an intervening cite, and you cite the case again, do it like this: Smith, 112 F. Supp. at 351.
  • To cite a statute, just state where it is located. Start with the title number for the code or regulation (the name of the statute is usually omitted). Then abbreviate the name of the un-annotated code or regulation. The Federal Statutes are U.S.C., and the Code of Federal Regulations is C.F.R. Memorize the names of the statutes and regulations for the state in which you plan to practice. Put a section symbol, or two if citing multiple sections. Then the number of the section and letters for any subsection, and finish with a period (the parenthetical including the date is often omitted as well), like this:

12 U.S.C. §122(a).

  • If you cite the statute again, use a signal. If there is no intervening cite, use Id. If you cite the statute again, but the section is different, do it like this: Id. §122(b). or §122(b). Don’t use “at.” If there is an intervening cite, and you cite the statute again, do it like this: 12 U.S.C. §122(a).
  • To quote the language from a case or statute, use these four rules. If the quote is in the text, use quotation marks. To do a block quote, double space the text, then indent and single space the body of the quote, leaving out any quotation marks. Left justify the citation for the quote; and then continue on with the text. To alter text, use brackets [ ]. To omit words in text, use an ellipsis . . . (and add a fourth period if the ellipsis is at the end of a sentence).

That’s it. After practicing law for thirty years, that is, in my opinion, all the citation a 2L really needs to know by heart. If a student practices in litigation and encounters anything else, the student will obviously have to look up the correct form. But the preceding page contains all the forms the average student will encounter all the time.


Ben Fernandez

Ben Fernandez teaches Legal Drafting (litigation documents, contracts and legislative documents) at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. He previously taught Legal Methods (Legal Analysis), Legal Research and Objective Writing, Lawyering Process for Litigation Practice, and Transactional Drafting at Florida Coastal School of law. Also, he worked as an adjunct professor teaching Legal Writing at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, and Business Law at Cape Cod Community College. Ben has twenty-five years experience representing financial institutions, government housing finance agencies, non-profit corporations, home buyers and sellers, and other clients in commercial and residential mortgage loan closings, affordable housing finance transactions, and residential real estate developments on the South Shore and Cape Cod. He had his own practice in Plymouth, Massachusetts for ten years. Before that, he practiced law in the city of Boston for fifteen years. He worked as in-house counsel for a state-sponsored affordable housing finance agency, managed the business department of a prominent minority-owned firm, and was an associate at two large Boston law firms. Ben also served on the Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Plymouth, Massachusetts. He was a volunteer teacher in Junior Achievement's Financial Literacy program, and a regular speaker at Homebuyer Education Workshops sponsored by South Shore Housing and Housing Assistance Corporation on Cape Cod. Ben has an LL.M. in Banking and Financial Law Studies from Boston University School of Law, as well as a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law and a B.A. from Cornell University.

Comments are closed.