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Universal Citation: Intro & Definitions

A South Carolina focused guide to discussions of citation reform, sometimes referred to as vendor neutral citation, medium neutral citation, uniform citation, or public domain citation.

About this Guide

This guide to discussions of citation reform is designed for anyone with an interest in legal research or legal technology, and particularly for lawyers and law students.

The focus of this guide is South Carolina case law citation.

In this Guide

Definitions (this page, at right)

Associations that have taken positions on universal citation:

  • ABA - first recommended universal citation in 1996; resolved again in 2003; still in effect
  • AALL - first published a guide to universal citation in 1994; issued new editions in 2004 and 2014; continues to endorse

What other jurisdictions are doing

Reporters in Print

  • How much do printed case reporters cost?
  • How long does it take to get the page number in a printed reporter for a permanent citation?

Caselaw Access Project

  • CAP is an unprecedented digital, machine-readable collection of case law.
  • For legal tech innovators to make full use of a state's historical case law on CAP, that state must implement universal citation.

Further information that may be helpful to researchers

Key Definitions

case law : court decisions that can be cited as precedents.


citation : a reference to an authoritative writing, or a legal precedent.


universal citation : a system of citation that permits reference to legal information in any medium, print or electronic, without requiring reference to proprietary products of any particular publisher.

For example, a universal citation to case law might consist of five sequential data elements:

  1. case name
  2. year
  3. court
  4. opinion number
  5. paragraph number

For example: Smith v. Jones, 2020 SC 453 ¶ 82.

¶¶ 6, 27-28

Related Definitions

medium-neutral citation : a citation consisting of data elements that retain their meaning regardless of the format in which the case is published, printed or electronic.

For example, page numbering is not medium-neutral because a case can be printed in a variety of font sizes or margin widths that will alter page numbering, and an electronic version may use a scrollbar or other navigation tools without page numbering.


public domain citation : any difference between the terms "vendor-neutral citation" and "public domain citation" may not represent a useful distinction, since the absence of any proprietary control is the critical component of both concepts.


vendor-neutral citation : a citation that contains no proprietary data elements and makes no reference to a proprietary publication.

For example, when a court is the source of the opinion numbering and paragraph numbering, then these elements of the citation are vendor-neutral, not proprietary.


nn. 12-13