Is there a preferred source to link to for citations, or is it good for a citation to be followed by a list of sources for it so that if one is down others can be used. I've skipped the pay for access sources like WestLaw and Lexis as being less accessible.

In the first part it might be a choice for example between (depending on jurisdiction and other factors):

and separately Wikipedia which doesn't have the text, but discusses the case.

It may be that each of these are lacking certain citations and it is not possible to pick a single source, falling back to an order of established preference.

In the second case it might be:

Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) from CourtListener, from Justia is an important case


Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) opinion, opinion copy is an important case

See also What format should we encourage for citations? for the separate discussion of how to present excerpted text from cited materials.

  • I think a policy would be premature. Correct citations, combined with site-wide instructions on how to find cases, would be appropriate. I've written a quick guide to reading citations. I don't know why Wikipedia seems to link to Justia all the time. Jun 3, 2015 at 20:12
  • Sorry, I realize "premature" doesn't make any sense; I forgot to explain. Ideally, I'd like to see something like Wikimedia's geolocation system, where instead of linking directly to one mapping provider it goes to a compendious list of online sources, with direct links to the specified location (case). We're not there yet. Jun 3, 2015 at 20:23
  • I like the idea of a system that allows the user to pick their provider. Jun 3, 2015 at 20:35
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    For infrastructure ideas, Wikipedia has a tool they call Citoid. By way of fair disclosure, a Citoid node.js server instance makes use of the Zotero stable of site translators, and formats citations with the citeproc-js formatter. I wrote the latter, and I've worked on the former. (Sorry for placing this answer in a comment - I apparently have a reputation of "5," which does not qualify me to post answers to things.) Jun 4, 2015 at 1:13
  • @FrankBennett - I guess they want you to earn some rep on the main site before posting on meta. Anyway, isn't Citoid the opposite of what this question is about? We're talking about turning a textual citation into a URL, but Citoid seems to be about turning a URL (or URL-encoded identifier) into a textual citation. (Neat tool, though; thanks for the link!) Jun 4, 2015 at 1:43
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    True. I'll try again with an actual answer - my StackExchange Self seems to be slowly materializing. Jun 4, 2015 at 23:52
  • @FrankBennett - It gets easier; once you've earned a bit of rep on one SE site, they give you a 100-point starting bonus when you join other sites so you don't have to pull yourself up by the bootstraps every time. Jun 5, 2015 at 18:00

4 Answers 4


When you cite to an Act or Law, you should cite to the actual law, not to a wiki article covering that law. Cornell offers searchable U.S.C. for free.

Additionally, I typically cite to scholar.google.com when citing cases. It would allow people who have a google account to also save the case for later viewing.

Also, most jurisdictions now have (recent cases at least) online located at a permalink.

I contend that EVERY initial mention of an Act or law should be cited to an actual source of the law, not to an analysis of the law.


My opinion for UK citations is that we should prefer—

  • The official website of the judiciary (contains a selection of cases from 2011 onwards)

  • BAILII: the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (a large and free repository of judgments, contains modern and historical cases)

as they are both free and authoritative.

Where possible neutral citations should be used, as they refer to the case without specifying a particular report or journal.


Although I toot my own horn in saying so, the Juris-M reference manager should be a good fit for frequent commenters on the site. It requires installation of a client, but it enables an efficient workflow:

  • Cases and statutory provisions can be pulled into the reference database from the major sites with a click;
  • Collected references can be tagged and annotated;
  • Linked citations can be dragged from the database UI into a Law.SE comment with site-specific formatting.

The functionality of Juris-M aligns with that of Zotero, on which it is based, and like Zotero it is a free open-source install. What it adds is a set of law-specific site translators for acquiring references (BaiLII, Google Scholar, FastCase, CourtListener and the LII are supported, with more to come), and jurisdiction-specific cite formatting.

Once a template for references is settled, I'd be happy to brew up a drag-and-drop template and a guide to enabling it for use with the Law.SE site.


I really don't think we need a preferred site when there's no free official site or when the official site's not commonly used (like for US court case citations).

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