Quick guide to AGLC

Referencing at law school, and the tyranny of the Australian Guide to Legal Citation (AGLC, or AGLC3 for the 3rd edition) rules, keeps many law students awake at night (really bad pun intended).

Here is a quick and dirty guide to AGLC referencing which collates the most frequently used citations required for law school essays. So either bookmark this page now, or print out the page references below – you’ll be using them for the next 3 or 4  years of your life.

AGLC3 what?

The AGLC3 is a reference book on how to correctly cite or reference materials in legal publications. In 334 glorious pages, it explains in pain staking detail how to reference case law, legal journals, legislation, textbooks, newspaper articles – almost anything you can think of.

Law students are required to reference other materials in every legal essay submitted. For example, any direct quotes, or material relied on to develop an argument or idea needs to be referenced. To avoid allegations of plagiarism, always err on the side of over-referencing.

You should also be referencing material that supports an argument you are trying to make, or well known material that is in contrast to your arguments.

AGLC3 referencing for law students is always scary
This law student doesn’t even care about the bird – she just realised she needs to use AGLC3 to cite all her source information.

 Can’t I just use software for referencing and citing?

There are programs such as Endnote which will reference all of your material automatically, provided you enter the details of the material into the software. There were many times, usually close to midnight on the day an essay was due, where I wished I used such a program.

However, despite the generally critical observations above (come on, no one likes this task), I definitely think there is value in knowing how to cite correctly:

  • First, you will actually understand what it is that you are including in your essay.
  • Secondly, you will be able to follow and understand citations in legal journals. These reasons sound simple, but don’t underestimate their importance.
  • If I haven’t convinced you yet, there is one final advantage – it provides hypercritical law students with one further value add (and for those just starting law school, yes, you will become hypercritical, just give it some time) – knowing the rules inside out means you can spot errors in others’ referencing and can then loudly proclaim your outrage. Win win.

It can be difficult the during the first few essays, but exercise some patience and before you know it, it becomes second nature.

The AGLC3 quick reference guide

If you have just started studying law, these citation rules will make no sense whatsoever.

The idea with this list is that you will read the AGLC3 and actually learn what you are meant to do, and then this list will be a reminder of the key rules so you don’t have to go back and try to find them in the 300+ page book.

These are the referencing rules that I used most frequently at law school. I have included the AGLC3 section number and (first) page number so you can find them easily if required. Each “piece” of a citation in this guide starts with a capital letter.

General Rules

  • Position (1.1.2, page 2): A footnote goes after the relevant punctuation.
    • Example: This is a stupid sentence,(footnote) and it makes no sense.(footnote)
  • Pinpoint references (1.1.5, page 3): For pages, just cite the page number (not “page”, “p” or “pg”), and paragraph references simply go in square brackets (after the page number, if there is one). You’ll use these all the time when citing judgments.
    • Example: Citing something from paragraph 54 on page 12 of a judgment: X v Z, 12 [54].
  • Spans of pinpoint references (1.1.6, page 4): For when a pinpoint reference spans multiple pages or paragraphs.
    • Example: X v Z, 12-6 [54]-[62].
  • Introductory signals (1.2, page 5): These are used when you are using a source but don’t directly quote it, and you’re trying to explain to the reader why you’re including it. Once you learn these referencing cues, you will find them very helpful when reading any peer reviewed and court materials (but obviously don’t include the semicolon.)
    • See: Use this when something provides qualified support for your argument.
    • See, eg,: Use this when you are referencing a single authority, but where many are available. For example, you might want to just cite the most favourable or comprehensive article in support of your argument (or maybe you just can’t be bothered citing them all).
    • See also: When there is additional authority. I used this often when I cited a direct quote, but also wanted to point to a second source.
      • For example: X v Z, 12 [54]. See also A v B.
    • See especially: To indicate the strongest source that supports your argument, where many sources are available.
    • See generally: This introductory signal is used to indicate a source that provides background support to the proposition in your essay. This is a good one to use in your introductions to your essays.
    • Cf: Use this to give the reader some material that contrasts with what you are trying to say (cf is the abbreviation for the Latin conferre, which is where compare comes from in English).
    • But see: Use this if there is an authority that you want to flag that partially disagrees with what you are trying to say.
    • contra: Use this if there is an authority that contradicts what you are trying to say.
  • Subsequent references (1.4, page 7 and 2.14, page 62): For the love of God, when you are drafting your essay or assignment, just write a full citation until you have decided that the essay is completely finished. Completely finished! Never use “ibid” or “above/below” before this point. If you do, your references will change as you move your text around and refine your arguments, and you will then find that “ibid” now points to the incorrect place. This can take hours to fix. Once you have finished your essay, check out this section of the AGLC3 for the rules on subsequent references.
  • Bibliographies (1.16, page 33): In bibliographies, the first author should have their surname first, followed by a comma, then the first name. This allows a list to be organised alphabetically. Each following author has the first name then second name. There are also no full stops used at the end of a citation in the bibliography.

Case references

Reported decisions (2, page 37)

  • Case name (year) Volume number Law report series Starting page, Pinpoint

Unreported decisions with Medium Neutral citations (2.8.1, page 52)

These are citations that don’t have a publisher such as Lexisnexis or Thomas Reuters. This is how a lot of judgments on Austlii are cited.

  • Case name [year] Unique court identifier Judgment number (full date) [Pinpoint]

If there is a reported case, use that citation instead of the unreported decision.

I would often use the unreported reference anyway, especially where I already had it and I couldn’t find or access the reported case. Trying to find a reported decision late at night is one of the worst last minute essay jobs you can imagine!

Unreported decisions without Medium Neutral citations (2.8.2, page 54)

  • Case name (Unreported, Court, Judge(s), Full date) [Pinpoint]

Legislative materials

Statutes (3.1, page 64)

  • Title Year (Jurisdiction) Pinpoint
  • Example: Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) s 180

Information on pinpoint references for legislation starts at section 3.1.4, page 66.

Journal articles

Section 4, page 81

  • Author, ‘Title’ (Year) Volume and issue Journal Page, Pinpoint
  • Author, ‘Title’ [Year] Journal Page, Pinpoint


Section 5, page 89

  • Author, Title (Publication details) Pinpoint

The publication detail order is publisher name, book edition, and then year.

Anything else?

  • Parallel citations (2.7, page 52): You will see this sometimes, but don’t use them. It’s that annoying thing where a case is cited and it includes every single citation available. For example, X v Y (1987) CLR 1; 89 ALR 8; 1 VR 98; and so on. You should only use the most authoritative citation.

Where can I find a copy?

The AGLC3 is edited and published by the University of Melbourne.

You can download a free copy on their webpage. Hard copies are also available for purchase for $20.

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