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Law Review Write-On Tips, Part 1 -- Read the Bluebook Several Times Before the Competition:

Many first-year law students will be participating in write-on competitions right after the end of the semester. (Some schools, like UCLA, conduct their competitions during Spring break, but the start of the Summer turns out to be the most common time.) Over the next several weeks, I'll blog a bit about this, mostly based on the "Getting on Law Review" chapter of my Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, Seminar Papers, and Getting on Law Review book.

Let me start, though, with a suggestion for what you can do now. Yes, I realize that you're already doing something now -- studying for exams -- but this is what you might want to do in the breaks when you just can't bear to look at your outlines for another minute. Just as an athlete needs to prepare well before the competition, so do you. The write-on competition will require specialized knowledge that you probably haven't fully learned. Use the time before you compete to acquire that knowledge.

The first piece of knowledge I want to point to is knowledge about how to cite legal authorities, commonly called "bluebooking" (after the Bluebook, which is the most commonly used citation manual). Some law review competitions have a separate editing test which tests your ability to bluebook, as well as to proofread for other problems. Others only require you to write a paper, but may grade you partly based on the proper bluebooking of that paper.

Often the bluebooking counts for 20% or more of your grade. The law review, after all, is looking for people who'll be good cite-checkers, and part of a cite-checker's job is bluebooking. The law review is also looking for people who are diligent, and who are attentive to detail. If you weren't willing or able to put in the effort to properly bluebook your own work, when the result affects your professional future, the editors will reasonably assume that you probably won't do a good job bluebooking others' work, when you're on the law review and have no personal stake in getting things right.

Figure out whether your law review will grade you based in part on your bluebooking. If it does, then ask it what citational manual it uses -- whether it's the Bluebook or something else -- and whether it has any supplemental instructions explaining how its style deviates from the standard manual. Then read the citation manual (and any supplementary materials) several times. Make it your bus reading, your exercise bike reading, your bathroom reading. The manual contains many rules, and many of them are not intuitive. Even the existence of the rules might not be intuitive; for instance, would you have guessed that the Bluebook has a special citation formats for The Federalist, the Bible, and Shakespeare?

The only way you can master the manual is by reading it carefully and repeatedly, and by marking (with post-its, for example) those items that you found most surprising, and that you think you'll most need to be reminded of during the competition. You will then (a) have a good sense of the rules; (b) understand the general logic behind the rules (not all the rules are explicable using a general logical principle, but some are); and (c) have seen enough of the examples of how the rules are applied that you might more easily notice when something departs from the rules. Pay particularly close attention to the rules related to (1) cases, (2) statutes and constitutions, (3) articles, (4) books, (5) short forms, and (6) citation signals.

I have my quarrels with the Bluebook. I think it's often helpful to depart from some of the rules, and I've had fights with law review editors about that. You may have similar objections.

Save them for when you're an editor or an author. During the competition, follow the citation manual word for word. And before the competition, read it again and again.

Chico's Bail Bonds (mail):
The thought of reading the bluebook over and over makes me want to throw my chair through the window and jump six stories to my death. For those of you with a similar viewpoint who are starting law school next year, here's some alternative advice that worked for me: join a specialty journal that uses 1L's to do citechecking. As long as you take your citechecking assignments seriously, you will master 90% of what you need to know for the write on.
4.26.2006 4:18pm
William Spieler (mail) (www):
Realize also that once you make it on journal, you'll be faced with sources that the Bluebook really doesn't tell you how to do, and you'll just have to make it up.

(Actually, that'd be a good bluebooking test - take the sources that your editors really couldn't figure out, and see how 1Ls bluebook it)
4.26.2006 4:47pm
John Armstrong (mail):
Actually, this raises a point I've been pondering: are there such resources in other fields? In particular, the AMS provides BibTeX entries (data for automated bibliography construction) for just about every math paper or book ever written, but when I want to give proper credit when I say mathematicians "can't define" a given concept "but they know it when they see it"... nothing.
4.26.2006 5:01pm
Abdul (mail):
Eugene's right. Given that the write-on entries are long (5-15 pages, but your milage may vary) and the other criteria can be subjective, and that all of your judges have day jobs working at big firms, quite a few Law Review judges use proper bluebook form as a proxy for writing talent. It's hard to say just how much more insightful or original one paper is from the next, but you can always tell if the footnotes used the state reporter instead of the regional reporter.
4.26.2006 5:29pm
Anon LR Ed:
1L's: William almost has it right. A good bluebooking test will ask you about items that aren't in the Bluebook. You'll have to draw from the Bluebook's logic to supply the best answer.

Also, consistency is a virtue. If you can't figure out the proper citation form, don't try it three different ways. Pick one (based on Bluebook logic) and stick with it.
4.26.2006 5:59pm
Gaius Obvious (mail):
Do they teach you to put hidden codes in your rulings?

Judge Hints at Code in 'Da Vinci' Ruling

LONDON - The judge who presided at the "Da Vinci Code" copyright infringement trial has put a code of his own into his ruling, and he said Wednesday he would "probably" confirm it to the person who breaks it.
4.26.2006 6:20pm
dfslk (mail):
While reading the bluebook cover to cover is a good idea, people may want to stab themselves in the eyes by the time they get to Rule 6. Perhaps a more practical way to do this is to grab a couple of law review articles on various subjects (include one on international law) and "bluebook" them. Just check the below-the-line cites and look up the rules for each type of cite. Maybe mark each rule that has been covered, and try to cover each one 2-3 times. Then flip through to look at those rules that haven't been covered at all. A good bluebook test will not focus on a lot of obscure rules or issues outside of the bluebook (one or two obscure ones, however, is probably necessary and too much to resist). The key to the test is figuring out who has enough knowledge of the bluebook and enough diligence to do the work with effort that they will get the normal bluebooking questions (i.e., 99% of them) right the first time. Managing editors don't want to have to spend time correcting simple stuff, even though they will anyway. They expect to have to spend an obscene amount of time pondering the tough stuff. The key is effort and attention to detail.
4.26.2006 7:48pm
Confused:
[Caveat lector: My perspective is limited because the law review on which I served did not test for Blue Booking in the law review competition, except insofar as you had to be able to cite articles, books, and cases correctly, and use proper signals. So, take this with a box of Kosher salt.]

I agree with Eugene's basic point that one must obey the rules on a technical exam, and suppose that he's probably right that knowing the Blue Book well would be of some service, and further suppose that reading it cover to cover several times would enhance that knowledge. But I nevertheless can't help but feel that there's an air of satire (accidental?) to the post. For example:

"Yes, I realize that you're already doing something now -- studying for exams -- but this is what you might want to do in the breaks when you just can't bear to look at your outlines for another minute."

"Then read the citation manual (and any supplementary materials) several times. Make it your bus reading, your exercise bike reading, your bathroom reading."

Because I know Eugene is too nice a person to post something like this in jest, I suppose I should take it at face value. But at the same time, it does suggest that Eugene's vast intellect and powerful discipline put him totally out of touch with normal human beings. Read the blue book cover to cover several times? As a break from studying for exams?

The truth is, that's a recipe for losing focus on your exams or, equally bad, exhausting yourself during exams and not having the stamina to make it through the oftentime grueling writing contest. (At my school, it was a week long and most students worked at least 10 hours a day.) Surely a better approach would be to skim the Blue Book, once; familiarize yourself with how to use its index; scan the list of abbreviatable words; become conversant with the rules for citing cases and articles, which will compose the majority of the citations in your writing sample; check out how to cite books, statutes, and the Constitution, which should satisfy the remainder.

And then forget about the law review competition and study for exams. (I could write a treatise on how to do this, but won't.) When the exam comes, use the index to look up obscure citation forms, double check words that look like they can be abbreviated, and so forth. You'll do fine. Would you do marginally better had you read the Blue Book several times? Possibly (barring exhaustion), but there is more to life than reading the Blue Book. I'd recommend using your runs to enjoy Spring, reading your outlines on the bus, and reading a good piece of fiction or some poetry while on the can or before going to sleep. (Hell, read a comic book!)

Like Eugene, of course, we are all of us unique, and so I should double caveat this post by saying that what worked for me won't work for everyone. But my approach did put me in the top five or ten students at one of the best schools in the country and sent me to a pair of very nice clerkships. Hopefully, more explicit credentials aren't necessary.
4.26.2006 8:13pm
Jeremy (mail) (www):
When I did the law review competition back in the day, bluebooking was 25%, a writing assignment was 25%, and grades were 50%.

My best suggestion is for competitors to look at recently published law review articles to find citations similar to the ones in the bluebooking assignment, then use those as templates. (Assuming, of course, this is allowed by the rules of the competition.)

Reading the Bluebook a couple of times will definitely be helpful, but the competitors should know to skip all the practitioner stuff at the beginning.
4.26.2006 8:51pm
Bill Logan (mail):
Eugene's advice to read through the Bluebook is very good. This is especially essential if your law school uses the ALWD Citation Manual for its 1L writing course, but the journals use the Bluebook. I would recommend that people start with the "Bluepages" section at the front of the Bluebook. And please use the current edition (18th ed. 2005) of the Bluebook, not some older edition--things do change.

If you want some practice, Lexis has an "Interactive Citation Workstation" that you can use (it's supposed to be used in conjunction with a print workbook, but you can also use it by itself). Westlaw has a similar product called "CiteStation," but it's only available through TWEN, which means that one of your instructors has to make it available on their TWEN page.

For John Armstrong, are you asking if other fields have citation manuals? The most prominent ones in the humanities and social sciences are probably the MLA Style Manual, the APA's Publication Manual, and the Chicago Manual of Style. Individual disciplines may have their own specific manual.

If you're asking if there is a law version of something like AMS's BibTeX entries (which I haven't ever used, so I'm just going by what I think you're describing), I don't know of any electronic resources. In print, you might look at "Prince's Bieber Dictionary of Legal Citations."
4.26.2006 9:04pm
Steve:
Veterans of writing competitions know that the true challenge is not good Bluebooking, or even good writing. The true challenge is finding the energy to even complete a lengthy writing assignment, in the weeks after you've just finished a grueling first year of law school and want nothing more than to wind down and forget about the law.

Assuming you possess the wherewithal, I agree with the Professor's suggestion that intimate familiarity with the Bluebook will definitely improve your results. But suggesting that this kind of process is indispensable is a good way to dissuade people from even attempting the assignment in the first place.
4.26.2006 9:09pm
boonelsj (mail):
From my own journal experience I would say that this is good advice if only because it'll give you some estimate of how much you will hate being on a journal. The journal competition is like a pie-eating contest where first prize is more pie to eat.
4.26.2006 9:41pm
Confused:
And by "more pie to eat" you mean "a prestigious clerkship." :)
4.26.2006 10:14pm
Adam (www):
Or, of course, become familiar with the rarely-seen, but much more logical MaroonBook.

Here's the main reason to become good at this: BlueBook mistakes will jump out at a reader who has to process a lot of these submissions more easily than bad writing generally will.
4.26.2006 11:27pm
Bald Attorney:
As someone who is currently on a law review and in the process of grading 1st year competitions I would say that by far the most important thing is effective organization of your entry. While bluebooking is certainly an important quality, allowing your reader to understand where you are going with the paper is much more important. I have started reading entries and there are an absurd amount that ramble aimlessly with the no headings and/or subheadings. Just my two cents.
4.26.2006 11:30pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
More Amusing Prisons in the Mountains of Peru.
4.27.2006 12:29am
Lev:

The law review, after all, is looking for people who'll be good cite-checkers, and part of a cite-checker's job is bluebooking.


How wonderfully exciting and relevant to anything.
4.27.2006 1:17am
egn (mail):
As a current 1L who will soon have to deal with this nonsense, I've been getting increasingly irritated about the prospect of my (and my fellow students') clerkship and early career prospects resting in significant part on something so petty and ridiculous.

If I'm ever on a board, I'm going to suggest that in lieu of bluebooking we have people literally jump through hoops. It seems roughly as relevant to anything.
4.27.2006 1:45am
NickM (mail) (www):
I agree with Chico's Bail Bonds' alternative advice. There is nothing like hands-on experience with the Blue Book to understand its rules (and to have noticed obscure ones).

Diligence in cite-checking is one of the few objective indicia of diligence in legal research, which is very important to prospective employers. IMO this is sufficient reason that cite-checking skills should be considered valuable by law students who plan on practicing law.

Nick
4.27.2006 5:19am
The River Temoc (mail):
Chico Bail Bonds wrote:

The thought of reading the bluebook over and over makes me want to throw my chair through the window and jump six stories to my death.

And you think the actual practice of law will be any better why, exactly?
4.27.2006 8:58am
The River Temoc (mail):
Given that the write-on entries are long (5-15 pages, but your milage may vary) and the other criteria can be subjective, and that all of your judges have day jobs working at big firms, quite a few Law Review judges use proper bluebook form as a proxy for writing talent.

Well, as a data point, I pretty much ignored it, pulled out the papers in a bar, and read them for structure, writing ability, argumentation, and so forth. This was about five years ago, admittedly, but I remember doing this much more than checking the bluebooking.
4.27.2006 9:00am
Some Guy (mail):
The Bluebook is for sissies. I use my own style of citation. Made it up myself, and it looks a million times better than that amateurish bluebook. In almost ten years, no one has ever complained, and everyone around me winds up imitating my style.

Suck it, Harvard.
4.27.2006 10:20am
Peter Friedman (mail) (www):
Peter Martin's citation cite is a useful resource too.
4.27.2006 11:05am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Here's the main reason to become good at this: BlueBook mistakes will jump out at a reader who has to process a lot of these submissions more easily than bad writing generally will.

UNTESTED HYPOTHESIS: Given that (1)Federal judges rely on clerks to a greater or lesser extent and (2) these clerks usually finished near the tops of their classes and were very likely on law journal ...

... does it follow that citation errors, particularly the more egregious ones, will jump out more at these clerks? Particularly since they haven't had much (if any) time in actual practice to develop a "who the hell cares" attitude about such things?
4.27.2006 11:26am
Amy (mail):
With all due respect....I don't think students need to be spending their time reading the bluebook. When I did the competition, everything on the editing test was found quite easily using the index, table of contents, or reading related rules.

I am clerking this year, and yes, egregious citation error jump out. They are annoying, but like someone said, who really cares as long as you can find what they are citing? Clear writing is much more important than 100% correct citation.
4.27.2006 12:49pm
egn (mail):

Diligence in cite-checking is one of the few objective indicia of diligence in legal research, which is very important to prospective employers.


Surely, offering up cite-checking as the standard for diligence in the legal profession won't avert the chair-throwing reaction described above. Good God, what did I get myself into.
4.27.2006 1:57pm
Porkchop (mail):
This thread makes me s-o-o-o-o glad that I graduated from law school twenty-five years ago. With time, the pain diminishes. You can all take a modicum of comfort from that. Of course, you will most likely still be practicing law . . . so maybe not.
4.27.2006 2:05pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
With all due respect....I don't think students need to be spending their time reading the bluebook.

Well, I did say "untested" hypothesis. Let's hope most clerks are as beneficent as Amy.

The only "citation mistake" I remember from my internship with the federal district court was the citation of a dissenting opinion as if it were the opinion of the court. That would be a biggie.

How about a thread on readers' pet peeves? "So.2d" for "So. 2d" ... failure to pinpoint ...
4.27.2006 3:33pm
Lev:

Diligence in cite-checking is one of the few objective indicia of diligence in legal research,


I would have thought that diligence in correctly and accurately representing what a case etc. actually said, and that it is actually relevant to the point attempted to be made, might be more important than "diligence in cite-checking". Silly me.
4.28.2006 12:25am
JohnR (mail):
Now retired, I spent a large part of 30 years in Washington, D.C., as a non-lawyer either cleaning up what lawyers had done or doing the legal work myself (drafting legislation and supporting memos, directing legislative campaigns, etc.). Given this post's window into law school practices, I can see how being required to attend to such law school nonsense to obtain passing grades produces stilted ignoramuses of a high order--just like the ones I worked around during my career in D.C.

You folks in law school, or contemplating law school, will be better off pursuing some other vocation. There's no reason to continue to provide employment for knothead law professors. You don't have to have a degree to be a lawyer when conditions require it.
4.28.2006 12:27am
Spoons (mail):
Dear God, what pains me most is that there are some who will actually follow this advice. Even if it works... ugh.

I never understood why someone would want to write-on to a law review anyway. It's not necessarily all that prestigious, and it's certainly less useful than other things you might do, such as Moot Court. My view is, grade on if you can. If not, do Moot Court, legal clinic, or something else that actually has to do with lawyering. If all else fails, study more to bring your grades up: it'll be more valuable than writing-on to law review anyway.

If you feel you absolutely must be on a journal, go for one of the more specialized journals. They're usually much more eager to get people, and don't put you through silly anal retentive tests to get on. You'll still need a reasonable grounding in the BlueBook, but nothing like the Professor is proposing here.

I think if I'd ever found myself tempted to read the Bluebook from cover to cover I'd have put a gun in my mouth.

Full disclosure: I graded on to my school's law review, hated every second of the experience, didn't get my note published, and got a good clerkship anyway. But I STILL to this day wish I'd found something better to do with my time.
4.28.2006 1:11am
Chico's Bail Bonds (mail):
The River Temoc,

I am practicing law right now, and I know it's not much better. In fact, I didn't think of the throwing the chair out the window idea until I started my first job out of law school.
4.28.2006 2:28am
Xrayspec (mail):
I disagree with the advice to read the bluebook cover to cover. For most people, reading rules without simultaneously putting them into practice means they won't tend to stick.

Here's a tip that worked for me. Do your citecheck test on Microsoft Word. Retype the erroneous passage EXACTLY into Word. Use the same font &line breaks. Then turn on the 'markup' feature, but keep the markups hidden. Edit the passage in Word so it's correct. Make the markups visible, and you'll see all the errors indicated in red. Translate this back into proofreading marks on the citcheck sheet.

I found this more efficient than the usual advice to do the citecheck test three times and combine everything. That seemed inefficient, since you spend a lot of time correcting the same errors. The advantage of Word is that you can 'visualize' the corrections. As you do multiple passes, you will find more things, not the same things.
4.28.2006 12:29pm
Randy R. (mail):
Oh good lord. Any law student who spends his time reading the Bluebook for more than ten minutes is an idiot. Anyone who takes pride in knowing more than a dozen of it's rules should be shot.

I was had bad grades my first year, so I was determined to win the writing contest to make it onto the Law Review. So after my exams were over, I partied very hard for a few days, than sat down and researched and wrote a ten page paper, with another 20 pages of footnotes. I did my best with the Bluebooking, but really didn't care too much.

I got on the Review, When I went over the paper with a senior editor, I found out my paper was the best by far. As she went over it with me, telling me the good points and the bad, she never once mentioned whether I cited correctly, although she did correct some of the obvious errors. But that was of little concern to her. Or to anyone else for that matter.

Then I became an attorney at an administrative appeals court at a federal agency. We had briefs from sole practitioners, and some of the largest firms in Washington. Invariably, the large firms had excellent bluebooking skills, and they had the heavy weight paper, and the ingraved letterhead. There were no spelling mistakes (this before spellcheck!). And you know what? It didn't make a damn bit of difference -- either their argument held water or it didn't.

So yes, for those anal attorneys out there, good bluebooking is very important, but in the real world, it matters not a damn. I find that people who really care about such drivel are people best avoided -- they will always find something wrong about you and your work. And you could be the finest attorney in the world, arguing the most complex of cases, but if you cited a case wrong, in their eyes you are crap. Who needs this type of person?
4.29.2006 12:54am
Randy R. (mail):
Here's a story. When I was in law school, I had a friend on the law review. His name was Kevin. Kevin was a nice guy, but rather boring. He got very good grades, but rarely partied, had few friends, and was socially not at all active. Frankly, I didnt' think he was all that smart, and he had NO imagination whatsoever -- no creativity. In fact, he found any one who thought "outside the box" to be suspicious at best.

So he was interviewed by one of the largest law firms in the country. They asked him if he had any interests outside of the law. He answered, No, I don't. And this is the truth! He really had none. I asked about their response -- he said that they were quite excited about it, in a positive way.

He got the job. He worked their for several years doing the most boring work imaginable, reviewing documents and the like. But he liked it.

Kevin was tops when it came to Bluebooking. That's the type of person who likes it. As you can guess, I hated the arcane rules, but then I have a lot of interests in life. I think you will make a better lawyer by reading a Charles Dickens or Thoreaux, than you ever could by reading the bluebook. And if it's that important to you, then hire a dolt who really does like this stuff to do it for you.
4.29.2006 1:01am
mcp (mail):
I love the good Professor Volokh, but this is perhaps one of the nuttier things I've ever seen — then again, it's 1:30 am and I'm at law school, so life seems pretty crazy in general. There is perhaps nothing so ludicrous in the profession of law and law school than the bluebook and cite checking in general. I'm a 2L at a top law school and the vast majority of my classmates are smart folks with much to offer the world — if you added up our hours spent bluebooking and did pro bono projects, instead, we could make the world a lot better place. Wow this is bad advice. God help the kid who reads the Bluebook for a break from studying for his exams.
4.30.2006 2:32am
The River Temoc (mail):
There is perhaps nothing so ludicrous in the profession of law and law school than the bluebook and cite checking in general.

With respect, if you're still in law school, perhaps it's a bit premature to say that "there is perhaps nothing so ludicrous in the profession of law" than bluebooking.

Legal academia diverged from the real-world practice of law long ago, yet law firms continue to seek out students who served on law review. Why? They don't care that you've edited some interesting articles or written a great note. They're after your bluebooking and editing skills.

Even if you won't use bluebooking in your practice, law firms see the bluebooking aspect as a proxy for how detail-oriented you are. A VC friend of mine once said that she doesn't care if there's a typo on page 14 of your business plan, but that's exactly how lawyers measure the quality of their work product.

An earlier poster noted that "[f]or most people, reading rules without simultaneously putting them into practice means they won't tend to stick," but that's precisely what lawyers do all day. If you dislike bluebooking or reading rules, you should ask yourself why you want to practice law.
5.1.2006 1:20am