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).

Eliminate the bluebook? Sounds good to me. But you can go one better and avoid cite-checking entirely by the simple expedient of not competing for law review. Or any other journal.

It's nothing but a plot by law professors, among the best-paid in academia, to force people going deep into debt to do their grunty work for them for free. A waste of time, I say.
5.2.2006 5:27pm
Bpbatista (mail):
My dad is a more-than-reasonably-successful 40+ year practicing attorney in the Cleveland area. I clerked for him during my second year in law school while I was also an associate on the law review. I drafted a summary judgment brief for my dad using several "Id." citations. He called me into his office and asked me what the hell "Id." means. He had never heard of the Blue Book. I think this is a good demonstration of the practical irrelevance of the Blue Book.
5.2.2006 5:27pm
I can't speak for the Maroon Book, but using a non-legal citation style is unlikely to work. I spaded an article that had been cited APA style. Not good - mostly because APA doesn't require pinpoints.
5.2.2006 5:32pm
Tired editor:
Based on the pieces I've edited, I'd say that professors have already abolished the Bluebook....

A simple citation system would also reduce "Law Review Inflation." Similar to grade inflation, LRI is the decreasing value of law review which accompanies increased law review membership. Law reviews have ridiculously large memberships because it takes so many work-hours to bluebook.

My proposal: in addition to a simplified style, please abolish the every-phrase-needs-a-citation requirement. It might be necessary for court documents, but other law-related academic fields get by with (gasp!) one citation per paragraph.
5.2.2006 5:35pm
Public_Defender (mail):
The one useful part of learning the Blue Book is getting used to the idea of following arbitrary citation rules.

Citation rules vary from state to state, and even from court to court within states (and sometimes even from judge to judge within a court). Law students should get used to the idea of citing things the way their readers want, even if it's a needlessly complex citation system.
5.2.2006 5:48pm
As a member of the University of Chicago Law Review, I can assure you that we are still using the Maroonbook. I can also assure you that I was very happy that I was not using the Bluebook during my citechecks.
5.2.2006 5:54pm
Patrick Charles (mail):
The correct title is the Bluebook (one word).

Second, the 18th edition is now 415 pages. Consider that the 1st edition was only 26 pages.

The original Bluebook was printed when then-2L Harvard Law Student Erwin N. Griswold brought the Harvard Law Review citation pamphlet home to Cleveland so that his father's printer could make copies. Erwin Griswold later went on to be Dean of Harvard Law School as well as Solicitor General of the United States during the Johnson and Nixon Administrations.
5.2.2006 5:58pm
Harriet Miers' Law Partner:
I notice Mr. Somin doesn't mention the ALWD Citation Manual, which is easier to use and less arbitrary.

Citation at the end of the paragraph? Works well if you cite only to one source, but a paragraph may have a coherent line of thought relying on several disparate sources for each part of the idea. How do we match each source with each idea contained in the paragraph? Why should I have to pull all your sources to find the one I want to follow up with?

Those of us who practice are accustomed to citing at the end of every source in a thirty page brief, why can't a professor do the same?

Also, could you please point to the faculty law journals using simplified citation?
5.2.2006 5:59pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
Hooray! Hooray! Hooray! Death to the bluebook! Les bleus livres à la lanterne!

I'd love to hear the market failure explanation. Because: even if law review boards have no incentive to properly value the time of their suckers noble staff, surely they value their own time and sanity when they try and do their own writing? Is there anyone who actually likes the bluebook? I mean, seriously. The students who perpetuate it complain about it, the poor fools who try and write subject to its constraints complain about it... who is the hidden constituency here?

Ah! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira,
Et leur infernale clique
Au diable s'envolera.
5.2.2006 6:00pm
Wintermute (mail) (www):
My two years, we needed to catch up with the publication schedule; so I wrote a bunch of WP macros to automate the task of correcting common citation errors and doing the proper fonts for typesetting. They made me associate editor to make up for all the voted editors blowing off their work to clerk. We caught up. The year after I left, I got a letter from the editor thanking me for those wonderful, time-saving macros.

In practice, no court is gonna raise a big stink about the exactitudes of the Blue Book; and furthermore, they keep changing things in it. I do wish they would acknowledge no one uses typewriters anymore, so the law review font conventions can be used in court filings and briefs.

Some have the brains and inclination to internalize the whole damned book, as well as being masters of grammar and proper sentence construction. These skills sorta oughta factor into who gets voted editor, though yeah, people skills matter; but it shouldn't be a mere popularity contest.

Abolish the book? I'm afraid readability of complex citations would suffer. What's the current edition anyway? I'm sure I'm out of date with my 17th. If they would just make practitioner and law review the same, and only make truly necessary changes after that, and publish a "what's changed," I'm happy to have the reference on the shelf.
5.2.2006 6:07pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
The Bluebook is just a hazing ritual, I think. Law reviews are by definition made up of people who were able to do a reasonably good job of Bluebooking, so they are not going to be the people who think "hey, this is a stupid and worthless requirement."

Notice also the "practitioner's notes" at the beginning which themselves use a much simplified style, b/c no one would use the Bluebook in real life if there weren't such.
5.2.2006 6:08pm
Dan Pawson (mail) (www):
I can't swear that we've used it continuously since the 80s, but the three current University of Chicago student-edited journals (Law Review, Legal Forum, and CJIL) all still use the Maroonbook, and there's no real debate about switching back.
5.2.2006 6:11pm
The Bluebook makes a ton of money for the law reviews that put it together, especially Harvard Law Review, which is the lead editor.

It's in the 18th edition now -- they update it every few years. Every law student plus lots of lawyers have to buy it. The dollars add up quickly.
5.2.2006 6:12pm
SimonD (www):
While I think some of the Bluebook's rules are dumb (their conception of how to cite blogs, for example, just seems ridiculous; my way is better). But to be fair, the Maroon Book has its own fair share of stupidies and idiosyncrasies too. Why choose between dumb and dumberer? Can't intelligent writers figuire out a better way here?
5.2.2006 6:16pm
But you can go one better and avoid cite-checking entirely by the simple expedient of not competing for law review. Or any other journal.

It's not worth wasting your time trying to narrow down the competition like this. Not enough of your classmates read the VC.

Even if one regards law review and citechecking as an utter waste of time, it's still a spectactularly good investment in one's future in the legal profession. For better or for worse, law review is a status symbol that helps you every time you look for a job in this field.
5.2.2006 6:19pm
Funny, when I was on Law Rev (during the reign of the 17th edition), we used to always talk about how many situations the Bluebook does NOT provide for. We'd analogize from a rule to create a new one. We discussed writing a how-to guide: Statutory Interpretation &the Bluebook.

The Bluebook was fun, but I couldn't wait to forget it.
5.2.2006 6:23pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
Incidentally, in my practice, I have a worn, tattered copy of the 16th edition lying around. It's the only copy in our (small) firm. I spent quite a lot of time in federal court, district and appellate level, and write quite a lot of briefs. I haven't cracked the bluebook for a good six months. No adverse consequences.
5.2.2006 6:29pm
Dan Simon (www):
Why would anyone want to abolish the Blue Book? It's positively indispensible to anyone buying or selling a used car.
5.2.2006 6:31pm
Justin Cox (mail) (www):
The Blue Book exam is hell, no doubt.

But without it, however would we decide who gets on the student-run Journal?

Abolishing the Blue Book would upset our entire social framework. Without it, it would be far more difficult to figure out which of our classmates are worth getting to know.
5.2.2006 6:45pm
Tired editor:
Citation at the end of the paragraph? Works well if you cite only to one source, but a paragraph may have a coherent line of thought relying on several disparate sources for each part of the idea. How do we match each source with each idea contained in the paragraph? Why should I have to pull all your sources to find the one I want to follow up with?

I meant to say at the end of every thought/idea. Again, you might find this unbelievable, but footnote obsessions are absent in other social sciences. Somehow they're able to replicate others' research and limit their prose to the above-the-line text.
5.2.2006 6:45pm
Michael Wade (mail) (www):
I'm surprised that no one has mentioned how the Bluebook prepares lawyers for actual practice, specifically in multi-jurisdictional practice, or in jurisdictions with a large number of judges (each of who insists on having their own, arcane rules). On top of the judges each having their own filing, drafting, submission requirements, each court uses different rules as well. Each time a new case was started in a new court (to me), I had to quickly learn an entirely new set of procedures just to submit a motion or answer a complaint.

IOW, the thing I found useful about learning the Bluebook was not the substance contained therein, but the practice in checking every mundane detail that goes into drafting (and then submitting) a brief in order to conform it to an arbitrary set of rules. The quicker I could re-calibrate, the more time I could spend on the substance of the brief.
5.2.2006 6:48pm
Sydney Carton (www):
Anderson is right. The Bluebook is a hazing ritual. And it's a money machine for Harvard. It won't go away because the current trend is not simplicity in the law, but increasing complexity. Why are Supreme Court opinions illegible without a flow-chart to show which justice agreed with which part of which concurrance? Why was the EU Constitution over 500 pages? The same reason the Bluebook is now over 400 pages. The more you write, the less people will understand it, the more the lengthy document will give power to those who draft it.
5.2.2006 7:26pm
duglmac (mail):
Why not adopt the used car industries blue book instead? Lets get a little standardization going on here. You could even apply it to fees. Lets see now, what's the going rate for a court pleading? For a fifth year? Lots of miles? No problem.
5.2.2006 8:54pm
Bill Logan (mail):
I suspect that most of the people who complain about the Bluebook don't actually have occasion to use it. Why is the Bluebook a rather lengthy work? Because it is first and foremost a reference manual that is trying to present as many examples as possible that law review personnel might actually use or come across. As law professors cite more non-legal sources, and also foreign and international legal sources, in their articles, the Bluebook has to accomodate them.

What is the purpose of citation? To tell your readers what you are referring to and where it may be found. How does the Bluebook assist in this? By providing a uniform system of citation specially adapted to legal sources.

If you never move beyond cases and statutes, your citations aren't going to be all that complicated, and you'll just be referring to a comparatively small portion of the Bluebook. When I took Legal Writing and Research as a 1L, my instructor never dealt with citing legislative materials or foreign law or even law reviews. That doesn't mean that material in the Bluebook isn't valuable, it just means it wasn't valuable to the 1Ls, so it wasn't taught to us.

I would ask Bpbatista, who claims that his father had never heard of the Bluebook, how exactly does his father cite again to the same legal authority that he's just referred to? He may not use "id." but he must have some way of doing this--or does he just keep repeating the entire legal citation? Seriously--how does he cite to legal sources when he's writing? He may not have heard of "The Bluebook" as such, but he must use some system of legal citation (I suspect that he's jsut internalized something based on the Bluebook).
5.2.2006 9:16pm
Guest poster (mail):
Yes, I agree with Bill Logan. People complain about bluebooking, but rarely cite specific examples of what they don't like. If people have a specific criticism, send it to the good people at the Harvard Law Review, and maybe they'll fix it in the next edition.

The bluebook is long. There is a reason for that - there are lots of different things you can cite. If you want to cite the Zimbabwean constitution, or whatever, the Bluebook will tell you how to do it. The bluebook has grown because there is demand for bluebook rules for new types of sources - international, internet, whatever.

Why is the bluebook good? Because there is inherent benefit to a consistent system of citation. It's more professional, it's easier to use while reading the articles on Lexis or Westlaw, it's easier to consult if the original source if you're doing legal research, etc.

And anyway, the bluebook makes sense. After 6 months as a law review editors, I rarely need it anymore, since i know the rules. I only use it for obscure or random sources.
5.2.2006 9:35pm
Bill Logan (mail):
I apologize in advance for the length of this comment. Let me take issue with a point that Ilya makes:

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.

This is simply wrong.

1) What citation system do most social sciences disciplines use when referring to legal sources? The Bluebook. Check out these quotes:

The citation of legal documents and law cases may be complicated. If you work requires many such references, consult the most recent edition of The Blue Book [sic]. . . an indispensable guide in this field. Joseph Gibaldi, MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing 207-208 (section 6.8.14) (2d ed. 1998).

For more information on preparing these and other kinds of legal references, consult the latest edition of The Bluebook . . . , which is the source for the legal citation style that follows. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association 397 (5th ed. 2001).

2) Do most other disciplines get along fine without bluebooking? Maybe. Looking at a recent political science article, it seems they barely bother to cite at all! Here's part of a paragraph from the article:

Employers, for instance, are allowed to state their opposition to unions but are not allowed to threaten reprisals or promise benefits. No unlawful firings are allowed, no threats of plant closure or loss of jobs or denial of future benefits can be made, no promises of specific future benefits may be suggested, nor are bribes by the employer or by the union to employees allowed. The employer is not allowed to interrogate employees about their union sympathies, nor is it allowed to improperly survey union activities. The employer may not make campaign speeches to the employees within 24 hours of the election. At the same time, the union cannot pass out literature and campaign on workplace grounds (though the employer can), cannot participate in “captive audience speeches” held by the employer (unless the employer chooses otherwise), and, similar to the employer, cannot threaten the workers in any way. If a violation of these rules occurs during the election period, the Board has the power to overturn election results or, in more extreme cases, to issue injunctions and/or bargaining orders that force the employer to sign a contract with the union even if the union has lost the election.

Paul Frymer, Racism Revised: Courts, Labor Law, and the Institutional Construction of Racial Animus, 99 Am. Pol. Sci. Rev. 373, 376 (2005).

Noticing anything missing from that chunk of text? There are no footnotes, no endnotes, and no citations whatsoever for anything in that passage. The points may not be essential to the author's argument (and where the author quotes caselaw, he basically uses a Bluebook-style), but I'd prefer to know that he's not pulling them out of thin air.

Perhaps Ilya is content not to cite to sources when he writes, but I suspect that his readers would prefer to be able to go to his sources if they wanted to.
5.2.2006 10:19pm
j.pickens (mail):
I need the TPC reports on my desk by Tuesday afternoon!
Where's my stapler!

/Officespace analogy to Blue Book
5.3.2006 12:12am
Hans Bader (mail):
I didn't use the Bluebook when I was a clerk to a federal district judge drafting opinions and orders.

Its citation forms use too many different fonts and take up too much space.

The judge thought it was stupid. So do I.

All Bluebooks should be shredded.
5.3.2006 7:51am
As a former member of the U Chi L Rev, I'd like to mention the Blue-Book-ification of the Maroon Book. While the Maroon Book has no clear-cut rules on how to cite obscure sources, U Chi L Rev editors often ask cite checkers to see how obscure sources were cited in the past and to conform for the sake of consistency.

Thus, instead of the Blue Book's Civil-Law-like system of codification, the Maroon Book has a Common-Law-like system of caselaw. In the end, they both have annoying rules, albeit the Maroon Book's rules can change without a new codification (and does not require periods (ex. U Chi L Rev v(.) U. Chi. L. Rev.)).

I believe the 'scholarship' discussing Maroon Book/Blue Book distinctions mentions law students' desires, in the wake of the Legal Realists' attack on the Law, to find 'Law' somewhere. Cite checking is the easiest place for students, who were draw to the law out of a desire to impose order on the orderless, to create such a system.
5.3.2006 10:30am
Neal R. (mail):
IMO, the Bluebook's only significant contribution to academic scholarship was the precise definition of signals. But they've even botched that.

For example, you're supposed to use no signal when the cited authority "directly states the proposition" OR when when the authority "identifies the source of a quotation." You should use "see" only when the authority "clearly supports the proposition" but there is an "inferential step" between the proposition and the authority cited. The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation R. 1.2(a), at 22-23 (Columbia Law Review Ass'n etl al. eds., 17th ed. 2000).

Okay, so what are you supposed to do when the proposition requires an inferential step from the authority cited AND directly quotes that authority? I think pretty much everyone uses no signal, but isn't it far more important to indicate the inferential step than to indicate the direct quotation, especially when it is possible to construe the absence of a signal as an indication that the authority directly states the proposition in question? Obviously, the authority is being directly quoted: that's what quotation marks are for. This use of the strong "no signal" is pointless and causes needless ambiguity.

BTW, do I get extra credit for being the first in this thread to cite the Bluebook? Please note that I am aware that the title of the Bluebook should be in small caps, but that option is, sadly, not available on thiis blog. Also, I don't have a copy of the 18th edition handy. Would one of you 1L's mind running to your law library and getting me an updated cite for Rule 2.1(a)? Thanks.
5.3.2006 1:48pm
David Lewis (mail):
You guys don't get it. Clunkers like the Bluebook are what style manuals are all about. Louis Menand had the last word on the subject in his 2003 review in the New York Review of Books of the Chicago Manual of Style, which weighs in at over 900 pages:

"Some people will complain that the new “Chicago Manual” is too long. These people do not understand the nature of style. There is, if not a right way, a best way to do every single thing, down to the proverbial dotting of the “i.” Relativism is fine for the big moral questions, where we can never know for sure; but in arbitrary realms like form and usage even small doses of relativism are lethal. The “Manual” is not too long. It is not long enough. It will never be long enough. The perfect manual of style would be like the perfect map of the world: exactly coterminous with its subject, containing a rule for every word of every sentence. We would need an extra universe to accommodate it. It would be worth it."

Emphasis gleefully supplied.
5.3.2006 6:25pm
Patrick Charles:
Neal: You made a typo in your Bluebook citation. It is et al. not etl al.
5.3.2006 6:27pm
David Lewis (mail):
I did worse than Neal. I cited the wrong source. Menand's piece was in the New Yorker.
5.3.2006 6:40pm
nyejm (mail) (www):
I agree with everything in this post except the claim in point no. 1 that "Professors and/or their research assistants spend a great deal of time ensuring that their article submissions conform to the rules as well."

As one of the poor saps who has to make sure all the articles accepted for publication does indeed conform to the Bluebook, I can assure you that a LOT of professors don't care one bit about it. Which, of course, makes my job a lot more fun. Jerks.
5.3.2006 11:42pm
Randy R. (mail):
What's wrong with simply NOT abbreviating everything? Instead of U Chi L Rev, why not Univ. of Chicago Law Review? I mean, it's much clearer to even the novice, and it hardly takes any time at all. Otherwise, if you have to look up the reference in teh bluebook, then it's more of a decoding system, and it defeats the entire mission of making it easy to find the sources.

Really, though, most Law Reviews should be abolished. Most of what they publish is junk. They exist only to provide an outlet for mediocre professors to publish and therefore get tenure, and for mediocre schools to claim they are 'scholarly' because they have one. When was the last time anyone here actually read an article? And found it useful?
5.4.2006 2:26am
Molly in Chelan (mail):
As a federal prosecutor I frequently file pleadings in federal court. But I haven't looked at a Bluebook for years (I was on the UCLA law review some time ago and did the Bluebooking there). Most of our cites, of course, are federal cases and statutes, with CFR and other federal stuff thrown in sometimes. I rarely use a law review. And if I come upon something new, like a state case or article or web cite (!)? I look at the case heading and the court or the item title and make an educated guess. No one has ever complained that they could not find the source, and I did not have to dig out a blue book. My point is that in real practice, outside of academia, formal Bluebook cites are less relevant.
5.4.2006 9:57am
Neal R. (mail):
Patrick Charles:
I was testing you. Congratulations! You just made V'kh Consp. L. Rev.
5.4.2006 11:08am
Robert Lyman (mail):
The Virginia Law Review uses the "Slatebook." It's the Bluebook but with the irritating, elaborate, and unnecessary typeface conventions. I mean, really, what to small caps contribute to your understanding of a source?
5.5.2006 11:17am
Robert Lyman (mail):
The more I think about it, the more I think the problem isn't the Bluebook (although I think it unnecessarily complicated, the practitioner's notes are more than adequate) but rather slavish adherence to it. For example, should you write XXX F.3d YYY or XXX F. 3d YYY? How about XXX US YYY or XXX U.S. YYY? Who cares? There needs to be a rule, and teh bluebook supplies it. But that doesn't mean you need to waste your time carefully editing perfectly clear citations to conform to it.
5.5.2006 11:25am