Introduction to APA Style Legal References
Writers sometimes try to squeeze a reference for a statute or a court decision into the same format as a journal article, essentially trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. It won’t fit, it won’t look quite right, and it won’t be as useful to your readers as it could be.
There’s a better way. Instead of contorting legal references like pretzels, consult one or more of the following style resources: Appendix 7.1 in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, this blog, and the specialized style resources discussed below.
1. Appendix 7.1 in the Publication Manual
When creating APA Style legal references, your first and best resource is the Publication Manual’s Appendix 7.1: References to Legal Materials (pp. 216–224). There, you’ll find sample references for the legal documents that are most commonly used in psychology research, including court decisions, statutes, administrative regulations, and executive orders.
The reference examples in Appendix 7.1 are drawn from The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, which is an authoritative source for legal citations and the primary style guide used by legal scholars and other professionals in that field. The reference and citation formats that you’ll find in Appendix 7.1 are a hybrid of APA Style and Bluebook style, adapted to both fit well in an APA Style article and provide the unique information that will allow your readers to find the referenced legal document.
2. The APA Style Blog
The APA Style Blog already provides some resources for legal references. Citation of the U.S. Constitution is discussed in How to Cite the U.S. Constitution in APA Style. Capitalization of the names of legal documents is discussed in Do I Capitalize This Word?
New blog posts to help you find, reference, and cite other legal materials in APA Style are on the way. These posts will cover the following topics:
- Writing References for Federal Statutes
- Finding Federal Statutes
- Citing the Charter of the United Nations
- Patent References and Citations
- Executive Orders
- State statutes
- Court decisions
- Administrative regulations
- Federal congressional bills
As each topic is added to the blog, we’ll include a link to the relevant post in the above list.
3. Additional Resources
The Bluebook. If you’re working with more complex legal references that require you to go beyond the scope of Appendix 7.1, be sure to consult The Bluebook, which provides citation formats for constitutions, international treaties, domestic and foreign statutes, legislative bills and resolutions, administrative regulations and proceedings, executive orders, legal briefs and other court filings, reported and unreported court decisions, and many other legal documents.
Because Bluebook citation style relies heavily on footnotes and doesn’t include the reference list and name–date citations that are the hallmarks of APA Style, when you use a legal reference format from The Bluebook, consult Appendix 7.1 in the Publication Manual and, using the create-a-reference skills that you learned from our Frankenreference blog post, adapt the reference to closely follow the examples in Appendix 7.1.
Law Librarian. The law mutates. New laws that alter or overrule existing laws are passed all the time. You may wish to consult a law librarian to ensure that your references are complete and correct and that the law you are citing has not been superseded or overturned.
Additional Information Online. Finally, one other resource that I find helpful in my own research is the online guide Introduction to Basic Legal Citation by Peter W. Martin (an emeritus law professor at Cornell University). This is not an official source, so if you consult it, be sure to seek additional verification in The Bluebook.