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Legal Research Basics

Overview and glossary for the new legal researcher

Parts of a Citation

A case citation tells where a full copy of the court’s legal opinion in a case may be located. A complete citation includes the names of the parties in the case, the volume number of the court reporter, the court reporter abbreviation, the page number of the reporter where the case begins, and the year the case was decided.

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).

Case NameRoe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)

At the trial level the first name in a case citation refers to the plaintiff and the second to the defendant. If the case is at the appellate level, it may be reversed depending upon which party is bringing the appeal. For example, in Roe v. Wade at the trial level Roe is the plaintiff. If Wade loses at the trial level and appeals, the case name at the appellate level would be Wade v. Roe.

Volume Number and Case ReporterRoe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)

410 is the number of the particular volume of the relevant case reporter in which the opinion is located. It is important to note that the volume number must be read in conjunction with the case reporter as there are a number of different reporters. Decisions of the United States Supreme Court are available in three separate reporters, U.S. (the United States Reports), S. Ct. (the Supreme Court Reporter), and L. Ed. (United States Supreme Court Reports Lawyer’s Edition). Each reporter will have the case in question, but the volume numbers will vary depending upon the reporter used.

Page Number and YearRoe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) 

The number following the reporter abbreviation is the first page of the case. Reporter volumes typically contain numerous different cases. The year the case was decided is the final element of a case citation. 

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