I am trying to develop a Biblatex style for English (academic) legal citations. For the moment I am not trying to deal with the citation of cases (which is going to be very tough), but just with the citation of basic literature -- i.e., things like books, articles and so forth.

The most common citation style here (see, e.g. OSCOLA) is similar to that used in humanities fields such as history, so that the "historian" style forms a good starting point.

Legal journals have two distinct and different ways of dealing with years and volumes. Some/most journals have consecutively numbered volumes, where the year provides "extra" and in a sense optional information, i.e. the reader could find the journal from the volume number alone. These are cited as

Some Author, "An Article" (2010) 126 LQR 237

But other journals don't have volumes in this sense. They use the year of publication as the volume number. In that case the year of publication is put in square brackets rather than parentheses:

Some Other Author, "Another Article" [2010] PL 237

My question is: what is the best way to deal with this formatting requirement? Is it one that crops up in other areas? Is there a conventional approach? Among the possibilities:

  1. If the year is the volume, then enter the volume as "[YYYY]" in the .bib file, and leave the year blank. That seems simple to implement; but I don't like that it produces a .bib file that is in some sense "counterintuitive", because one doesn't think of "2010" as a volume number, but as a year!

  2. If the year is the volume, then enter simply the year in the .bib file, and leave the volume blank. In the style file, detect if there is a year but no volume, and if so use the square-bracketed form. I marginally prefer that to the previous option, because at least the "semantic form" of the .bib file resembles the way I would "naturally" think about this situation; but I'm concerned that I might get bitten by odd cases where there is (legitimately) a year but no volume number, but this particular form of citation is inappropriate.

  3. Given that the number of journals that use this particular referencing system is not huge (though it includes some very commonly referenced journals), write some sort of test in the biblatex style files to check for those particular journals. That sounds like a recipe for error, and missing cases. It also fails because some journals have changed their referencing system at some point, so one would also have to check the date. I'm inclined to reject it.

  4. Use a keyword to signal where a journal uses this system, and write macros that typeset accordingly.

Do similar issues occur in other areas of work? Is there a conventional way of dealing with them?

  • 3
    I agree that the first option doesn't seem very good; one variant of it would be to make the volume field and the year field identical, and then check that and print appropriately. Both this solution and your second solution have the possibility of being fooled, however. The most robust way would probably be your last solution. Biblatex offers custom fields that could be used for this purpose.
    – Alan Munn
    May 16, 2011 at 0:37

2 Answers 2


Because you say it's counterintuitive to think of 2010 as a volume, then I'm assuming it isn't really. I'd suggest blending options 2 and 4. Build up your bibfile as accurately as you can, defining both volume and year/date where both are truly listed. Let Biblatex assume what it will about those journals without a volume listed, in which case it will display the year bracketed. And then add an option on a per-entry basis, for the edge cases where a journal's year ought to be listed in parenthesis despite the lack of volume number (i.e., "odd cases where there is (legitimately) a year but no volume number").


\ifthenelse{ \(
    \not \ifbool{bbx@no-volume}

If you'd like to fold in your option 3, you can build upon this testing. Add a list of those journals that tend to have these legitimate odd cases by using the \iffieldequalstr test, always knowing that the "no-volume" entry-option has your back.


I haven't come across this type formatting in my own field. That said, the first two options generally seem reasonable, though there is no real need to force either field to be empty (blank). You can compare the contents of the volume and year fields with


An empty or absent field can be detected with \iffieldundef{<field>}.

If many of the bibtex entries are generated electronically by journal websites or some literature database, I'd probably base my decision what their output looks like rather than impose rules that would require some editing by hand.

  • In the (unlikely?) event that there is a journal whose volume number so happens to match its year, this system would fail. Also, since the formatting requirements are just that, the electronic records presumably have the years as just years for all journal types; those without volumes may simply have a blank volume. But it does make sense to adapt to the database format as much as possible.
    – Alan Munn
    May 16, 2011 at 2:12
  • @Alan: True, but volume = year by happenstance does seem unlikely. The OP appeared to give rules for how the fields would be populated, so the first part of my answer was based on that assumption. It would of course not make sense to detect year-indexed journals by volume = year if most databases left the volume for such journals blank. Hence my reference to the format of electronically-generated entries.
    – Audrey
    May 16, 2011 at 4:09
  • I don't think references will be generated electronically. Hitherto (at least) LaTeX has not been much used in legal studies, not least because the bibliographical requirements are very complex, and there was no convenient way of handling them with existing tools. I'm hoping Biblatex could change that. Audrey's method would work for journals, I think. But I think there are probably sound reasons to prefer the use of custom fields, as Alan suggested in his comment on the question. May 16, 2011 at 8:03
  • @Paul: So most online law databases can't export citation information? That is a shame. The OSCOLA style you mentioned has some support files for EndNote, which can export to bibtex. I'm pretty sure you can fully configure how the EndNote fields translate into a bibtex entry. This would be an easy way to generate the custom fields Alan mentioned. A good free alternative to EndNote is Zotero. It is designed to grab citation information from many different online resources. Not sure how much progress they have made with legal literature, though.
    – Audrey
    May 16, 2011 at 13:34

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