Deciphering Legal Abbreviations

One of the most important skills for any cite checker is learning to decipher legal abbreviations. Some are easy - Wis. L. Rev = Wisconsin Law Review - and some are a bit more challenging - L.J. Exch. in Eq. = English Law Journal, Exchequer in Equity. Fortunately, there are several good reference tools to help you make sense of even the most mysterious citations.

  • Perhaps the most important weapon in every cite checkers' arsenal is The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, which provides the proper abbreviation for many legal sources.
  • Wisconsin Guide to Citation focuses on Wisconsin citations and provides examples for citing the most common primary and secondary authorities in briefs and memoranda, including the public domain citation format for Wisconsin state court cases.
  • Bieber's Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations is another invaluable tool. This guide, which includes over 35,000 abbreviations is much more comprehensive than The Bluebook. It includes both a forward dictionary, which lists abbreviations and provides you with the complete title, as well as a reverse dictionary, which lists the complete title and provides you with the abbreviation. Bieber's is available both in the Reference Collection (Ref KF246 B46 2000) and at the Reference Desk. It is also available on LexisNexis.
  • Another useful tool, Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations, is available free online. Like Bieber's the Cardiff Index can be searched either from abbreviation to title or from title to abbreviation. The index, which is maintained by Britain's Cardiff University, includes abbreviations for English language legal publications from the British Isles, the Commonwealth and the United States, including those covering international and comparative law.
Still can't decipher that abbreviation or find the source? Reference librarians are able to assist you! Just stop by the reference desk, email, call or IM us. We enjoy interpreting and tracking down those tricky citations. Also, check out the UW Law Library's guide to Interpreting Legal Citations.

Submitted by Bonnie Shucha on October 16, 2007

This article appears in the categories: Law Library

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