The Case for Abolishing the Blue Book:

In a recent post, Eugene gives aspiring law review editors advice on how to pass the Blue Book tests many of you are now suffering through. I would like to go one better and free you from Blue Book drudgery altogether.

The Blue Book, as every lawyer and law student is forced to learn, is the enormously complicated citation system used in most law reviews and (to a lesser extent) legal documents. It is a massive tome, over 200 [correction: 400] pages long, with rules for every conceivable situation and some that probably are not conceivable to anyone who has not had the painful experience of reading the Blue Book. When I was a law student and member of the Yale Law Journal, I proposed abolishing this monstrosity and replacing it with a simple citation system such as that used in virtually every other academic field. Here are the reasons why:

1. The Blue Book is an enormous waste of time and effort.

Every year, law review editors across the country spend thousands of man-hours editing articles to make sure that they conform to the Blue Book rules, taking Blue Book tests, and engaging in other Blue Book-related activities. Professors and/or their research assistants spend a great deal of time ensuring that their article submissions conform to the rules as well. This time could easily be spent in more productive ways, such as studying, research, clinical work, or even working on your tan at the beach.

2. There is no evidence that the Blue Book improves the quality of scholarship.

There is zero evidence that having a hyper-complex citation system improves the quality of legal scholarship. Similarly, there is no evidence that other academic fields with simple citation systems have lower-quality scholarship as a result. Indeed, the opposite is more likely to be true, since time devoted to Bluebooking could instead be devoted to improving research quality.

Nor can Bluebooking be justified by the supposedly “special” nature of legal research materials. Scholars in other fields who study law and legal institutions (e.g. – economics and political science) get along fine without bluebooking, even though they have to cite the same types of sources as legal scholars do.

3. The University of Chicago Law Review precedent.

The University of Chicago Law Review and other Chicago journals have been using a much simpler citation system, the Maroon Book since 1986. There is no evidence that the quality of scholarship in the U. of Chicago Law Review declined as a result.

4. Faculty edited journals.

Most faculty edited law journals use simplified citation systems. This is a sign that leading scholars (the type of people who found and edit faculty journals) do not consider the Blue Book an essential element of good scholarship (or at least that they do not believe the benefits of bluebooking to be worth the cost in a situation where they would have to bear that cost themselves).

If the Blue Book is so inefficient, why has it not been replaced already? I may address the cause of this market failure in a future post. In brief, I think it has to do with the lack of incentive of law review boards to properly value the time of both student editors and faculty authors, combined with the short time horizons of the former (Board members serve for only 1 year; the costs of any reform are likely to be borne in that year, while most of the benefits will be reaped in later years).

As the University of Chicago Law Review found, it is difficult for any one law journal to junk the Blue Book unless others follow suit. But if you are a board member at a prominent law journal, I urge you to explore the issue of Blue Book abolition with your peers at other schools. Such collective action would be particularly useful if initiated by one or more of the journals that publish the Blue Book: the Harvard Law Review, Yale Law Journal, Columbia Law Review, and Univ. of Pennsylvania Law Review. You will not even have to go through the trouble of creating your own citation system from scratch, since you can simply adopt the Maroon Book or one of the citation systems used by other scholarly fields (which all include rules for citing legal materials). If you succeed, you will earn the gratitude of generations of law students!

Update: As several University of Chicago commenters point out, the U. of Chicago journals are still using the Maroon Book. I am glad to hear it! I had been misled by some articles claiming that the Maroon Book had been abandoned. The text of the original post will be edited to reflect the truth.

Update #2: Some Bluebook defenders argue that its complex rules are necessary to enable readers to determine where they can find the source for the information cited. I had thought that the answer to this point is implicit in my original post. But let me spell it out just in case: other academic fields (including those where authors often write about law and use legal sources) that use simplified citation systems accomplish this goal WITHOUT the mindnumbing complexity of a 400-page rulebook and without wasting thousands of man-hours of time. The same is also true of those law journals that use the Maroon Book (which I think is also too complex, but far less so than the Bluebook).