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How to Cite a Legal Case, Document, or Source in APA


If you’re using legal sources in your report and are trying to figure out how to fit them into your reference list, you’ll probably feel somewhat confused because, for the most part, APA follows The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation style. However, in some cases, you’ll still follow APA guidelines.

Student citing legal sources in APA

Bluebook or APA

APA recommends that references to legal materials, such as statutes, court decisions and legislative materials be formatted in the Bluebook style for consistency. When you cite periodicals or books, simply use regular APA format.

Legal Abbreviations

It’s helpful to understand how abbreviations are used in citing legal sources. As you’re scrolling through an APA reference list that includes a court case, you may come across a citation like this one:

Smith v. Jones, 529 F. Supp. 322 (D. Kan. 1981), aff’d, 727 F.2d 888 (10th Cir. 1984).

If you have a legal background, it may be easy to figure out. If not, you’re probably baffled. Using the handy list of common abbreviations, though, you should be able to figure it out.

Let’s Decipher This Legal Citation

Breaking down each part of that citation:

  • Smith v. Jones is the court case.
  • The decision is found in volume 529 of the Federal Supplement. 
  • The relevant information starts on page 322 (District of Kansas, 1981).
  • It was affirmed, which can be found in volume 727 of the Federal Reporter, Second Series.
  • The relevant information there starts on page 888.
  • The decision was affirmed by the 10th Circuit of Appeals in 1984.

List of Common Legal Abbreviations

Cir. Circuit Court
Cong. Rec.Congressional Record
Cong.U.S. Congress
F. Federal Reporter
F.2d. Federal Reporter, Second Series
F.3d.Federal Reporter, Third Series
F.Supp.Federal Supplement
Fed. Reg.Federal Register
H.R.House of Representatives
Res. Resolution
U.S.C.United States Code

Reference Form Examples

APA uses The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation for legal references.

Reference form for court cases:

Name v. Name, Volume Source Page (Court Date).

*if two or more years are given, cite those too.

Reference form for statutes:

Name of Act, Volume Source § section number (year)

Legislative Materials

Reference form for testimony at federal hears and for full hearings:

Title, xxx Cong. (date).

Reference form for federal regulation

Title/Number, Volume Source § xxx (year).

Reference form for executive order

Exec. Order No. xxxx, 3 C.F.R. Page (year).

TIP:  § indicates section, this symbol can be inserted in Word through the symbol drop-down tab ˃ special characters ˃ section.


Citing Legal Sources in APA

The legal world is complex, with different courts, jurisdictions, and state and federal laws. It can feel downright scary to tackle formatting your sources correctly. Fortunately, unless you’re a law student, these reference sources will not be that common.

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About the author

Adrienne Mathewson

Adrienne Mathewson, Editor-in-Chief of Bibliography.com, is an Information Professional with a Master of Library Information & Science degree from San José State University with an emphasis on information literacy and scholarly publishing. She is a certified librarian through the State of New Mexico.

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