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The Use of Pinpoint Citations in Legal Writing

A pinpoint citation, also known as a pincite, directs readers to the specific portion (page or footnote, for example) of a source that supports a stated proposition.

For a source in which the first page is identified in the citation (such as a case or law review article), the pinpoint citation is located immediately after and separated by a comma and one space:

  • Case. Century Indemnity Company v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, 584 F.3d 513, 528 (3d Cir. 2009).
  • Law Review Article. Jeffrey P. Bauman, Standards of Review and Scopes of Review in Pennsylvania — Primer and Proposal, 39 Duq. L. Rev. 513, 516 (2001).

But for a source such as a statute or book, the pinpoint citation is found directly after the title:

  • Statute. 71 Pa.C.S. § 5302 (2010).
  • Book. Black’s Law Dictionary 478 (9th. ed. 2009).

Certainly, a pinpoint citation is not necessary if a lawyer is referring to a source in its entirety.

I’m the type of lawyer that will check all citations in others’ documents to verify that they indeed accurately support their propositions; and when pinpoint citations are absent, this can be grueling work.  Whether lawyers exclude pinpoint citations because of carelessness, hardship, or even a deliberate attempt to frustrate their opponents, they must realize that they are negatively affecting their target audience: the court.

*The use of pinpoint citations, particularly in scholarly legal publications, does have its critics.  A post spawning no less than 40 comments on the blog, Concurring Opinions, illustrates the continuing debate.

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