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Abolish the Bluebook:

I recently received the following form e-mail from the editors of the Bluebook - the massive tome that is the standard citation system for most law reviews and other legal publications:

The editors of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation are about to embark on the exciting task of making revisions for the forthcoming Nineteenth Edition, and we need your help! We rely on user input to revise The Bluebook and our Survey is an opportunity for you to share your ideas with us as we update The Bluebook in a way that works best for you....

Comments and suggestions are also welcome...

I am grateful to the editors for soliciting my advice. And, as a matter of fact, I do have a suggestion that I hope they will consider: Abolish the Bluebook completely, and replace it with a much simpler citation system, such as the University of Chicago's Maroon Book. It may indeed be an "exciting task" to revise the Bluebook yet again. But I for one would be much more excited to be freed from Bluebook drudgery permanently; so would a great many law students.

I first suggested the abolition of the Bluebook ten years ago, when I was a student at Yale Law School (one of the schools whose law review publishes the Bluebook). Judge Richard Posner, perhaps the most distinguished living legal scholar, proposed the same idea years before, in a 1986 essay. They didn't listen to either of us back then and I'm not holding my breath now. However, I outlined the arguments for abolishing the Bluebook monstrosity in a May 2006 VC, and I hope that the current editors of the Bluebook will at least consider them. Here's a link to the 2006 post. I stand by every word.

Indeed, since 2006 I have become a co-editor of the Supreme Court Economic Review, a faculty-edited journal that uses the Maroon Book (as a result of a decision that predates my tenure as editor). I see no evidence that either the SCER or other scholarly journals that use simplified citation systems suffer in quality as a result. On the other hand, there is a great deal of evidence that Bluebooking wastes an enormous amount of time and effort that could be better spent on other tasks, including ones that might be even more "exciting" than preparing the 19th edition of the Bluebook.

UPDATE: Back in 2006, I also wrote a post on why the Bluebook is unlikely to be abolished or radically reformed, in spite of its manifest wastefulness. I hope that the current editors of the Bluebook prove that post wrong. But, on this issue too, I'm not holding my breath.

UPDATE #2: Daniel Solove, the prominent George Washington University legal scholar, pointed out some serious flaws in the Bluebook in this 2007 post. His general take on the Bluebook is perhaps even harsher than mine:

Most of the time, I've been extremely pleased with the editing I've received on articles. There are, however, some practices that law review editors routinely do that are incredibly silly and annoying. They bother nearly every professor I talk to. And yet they persist. One of the reasons is the Bluebook. The Bluebook is a thick book with a blue cover filled with more rules than the Internal Revenue Code. It is written by a consortium of law reviews and its primary purpose is as a money-making racket.

Cornellian (mail):
I really, really, really dislike the way answering one citation question always seems to involve looking at 3 or 4 widely scattered Bluebook rules and looking at the first one gives you no clue that there are 2 or 3 others that need to be located, read, and reconciled in some way with the first one.
5.22.2008 2:52am
Ilya Somin:
Cornellin,

I really, really, really dislike that too!
5.22.2008 2:55am
OrinKerr:
To take an argument from David Post, maybe dealing with arbitrary, irrational, and overly complicated rules is good honest training for being a lawyer.
5.22.2008 3:06am
George Weiss (mail) (www):
as a 1L, i actually like the bluebook and find it very logical.

alternatives (such as the only mildly recognized maroon book Ilya speaks of) might in fact be slightly better-but the cost of switching at this point is too high.

also-paying $20 a year to buy a very helpful guide that is
a) extremely helpful to practice or for academics
b) a lot of work goes into updating

doesn't seem like a "racket" to me.

in fact, i don't understand why the bluebook doesn't cost MORE considering the bluebook has the alternatives over a barrel becuase they were the entrenched favorite
5.22.2008 3:53am
Ilya Somin:
To take an argument from David Post, maybe dealing with arbitrary, irrational, and overly complicated rules is good honest training for being a lawyer.

It's more than enough training to have to learn the arbitrary and irrational laws of the real world. We don't need to further burden law students with Bluebook. Indeed, time spent learning the Bluebook is time that could be better spent learning real law.
5.22.2008 3:56am
George Weiss (mail) (www):
btw-i say this having every reason in the world to hate the bluebook

as a 1L-we were subject to a open bluebook citation and research quiz-which i failed-despite answering "all" the questions correctly-i somehow didn't get ahold of the last two pages and failed becuase they were left blank.
5.22.2008 3:56am
Ilya Somin:
as a 1L, i actually like the bluebook and find it very logical.

Even if it is logical (which I doubt), that doesn't mean that it's necessary.

alternatives (such as the only mildly recognized maroon book Ilya speaks of) might in fact be slightly better-but the cost of switching at this point is too high.

Actually, the cost of switching is very low relative to the benefits. The cost is merely some time and annoyance for law journal editors the year of the switch. The benefits include thousands of man hours of time saved each year on into the indefinite future. And for those who haven't learned the Bluebook yet, the cost of switching is zero.
5.22.2008 3:58am
George Weiss (mail) (www):
The benefits include thousands of man hours of time saved each year on into the indefinite future.

are you sure-the vast majority of people who use bluebook citation already are extremely familiar with its system and don't have to look up much-except possibly check each year for changes.

but a switch turns everyone into a 1L
5.22.2008 4:01am
Ilya Somin:
are you sure-the vast majority of people who use bluebook citation already are extremely familiar with its system and don't have to look up much-except possibly check each year for changes.

Even if they don't have to look up anything at all, a lot of time is still spent going over each and every footnote to make sure that it conforms to all the rules, and making changes where it doesn't. Moreover, not everyone who works on a law journal knows all the rules really well. A lot of us learned the system just well enough to get on the journal.

As for everyone becoming a 1L, the effect would be limited to the year of the transition. After that time, we would save thousands of hours every year on 1) teaching the system to new people, and 2) checking and changing citations.
5.22.2008 5:45am
Duffy Pratt (mail):
If saving wasted time is the goal, just imagine the benefits of abolishing law reviews.

Even if the publishers decided to "abolish" the blue book, would that necessarily make a difference. They didn't "adopt" the thing in the first place. For that, the blame lies elsewhere. The ones who adopted the Blue Book can still cling to any of the existing editions, no matter what the editors of the YLJ think.

Also, why is this not an area where the market should decide?
5.22.2008 6:01am
George Weiss (mail) (www):

Even if they don't have to look up anything at all, a lot of time is still spent going over each and every footnote to make sure that it conforms to all the rules, and making changes where it doesn't. Moreover, not everyone who works on a law journal knows all the rules really well. A lot of us learned the system just well enough to get on the journal.



ok i guess i could see that

but then it would seem the real problem is not the bluebook itself-but incredibly nitpicking journal editors=thats a more systemic problem i would think.
5.22.2008 6:14am
Patrick216:
Let me offer a perspective as both a practicing lawyer who uses the Bluebook and as a former managing editor of a law review that also uses the Bluebook. The practitioners' rules of the Bluebook (all seven of them) are simple, straightforward, and thereby offer the advantage of consistency and standardization of citation formats. I also like to use the tables in the back of the Bluebook to make sure I'm using standardized abbreviations in case names, law reviews, and the correct state court citations.

In my managing editor days, I hated the Bluebook because while it offered more rules than the Internal Revenue Code (nice analogy, Prof. Solove!), it didn't address such things as internet citations (at the time) and was difficult to deal with.

So, I think my experience suggests I'd join you, Ilya, in urging the "repeal" of the Bluebook in favor of something simple and straightforward!
5.22.2008 7:29am
graduating 3L:
As a graduating editor from YLJ, one of the four journal's responsible for the Bluebook, I'd venture to guess that the editors responsible for the Bluebook would never relinquish the Bluebook. Be it to open source format that can be readily updated, or a more simple system with less rules. Why? The monopoly that the four journals maintain over the Bluebook is extremely lucrative. By updating the book every 3 years or so (as is necessary due to (1) changes in internet and international sources but more importantly (2) the errors in the prior Bluebook), they force all legal professionals to routinely update their volumes. This results in a windfall of profits that fund all sorts of lovely events for the four journals responsible. The massive entertainment budgets for select 2ls and 3ls from four schools would be wiped out should the Bluebook be abolished.
5.22.2008 7:41am
rbj:
Ilya, what are your views on the ALWD citation manual ?
5.22.2008 8:09am
AnneS (www):
The BlueBook is evil. Primarily because it has at least twenty times more rules and quirks than any other academic citation system - somehow, all the historians, economists, doctors, scientists, and everyone else in the whole world of academic publishing gets away with much simpler systems without their disciplines collapsing or their fellow practitioners being unable to locate sources.

But it isn't going anywhere anytime soon. So I just ask one thing. One small favor to make everyone's lives a little easier. FEWER TYPESETTINGS. For the love of God, just because word processing programs have italics, underline, small caps, ALL CAPS, bold, and whatever else they think of net DOES NOT MEAN WE HAVE TO USE THEM. Everything you want to do with different typesettings can be done with regular font, underline, and italics. Everything you actually need to do can be done with regular font and either underline or italics.

If anyone here has any influence on the revision, please use it to achieve this one, small goal. I'll even settle for getting rid of small caps, which looks good on headings but is a pain in the ass to use for citations.
5.22.2008 8:24am
Will J. Richardson (mail):
Don't buy the BlueBook, just go here:
5.22.2008 9:05am
FantasiaWHT:
+1 for money-making racket. Almost as bad as print law journals! I just finished a year as a member of a law review and was driven absolutely crazy by the need to photocopy every single law review citation from a hard copy. The only possible justification for that that I can see (when they are available in exact PDF format on HeinOnline, much less the Lexis/Westlaw versions) is that if every law library didn't have to purchase every law journal every year, the journals wouldn't have a revenue source.
5.22.2008 9:08am
Will J. Richardson (mail):
Link did not take.

Don't buy the BlueBook, just go here:
Introduction to Basic Legal Citation
5.22.2008 9:16am
Kevin!:
Yes, there may be some minor gains from learning a blizzard of inefficient rules.

But surely a more efficient method would be to teach complex rule systems directly, in classes designed for that purpose. That would free up the citation system to do what it is supposed to do -- cite things.

I feel like there's an actual economics term for this circumstance, but damned if I can recall it. Where a justification for a result is trumped by showing a more efficient, externality-free method. Second best result? Something like that?
5.22.2008 9:41am
Adam J:
Using the Bluebook to cite is like using a Rube Goldberg machine.
5.22.2008 9:50am
Adam J:
Correction, using the bluebook to cite is like making a Rube Goldberg machine.
5.22.2008 9:51am
DC:
Ilya: Care to post the survey you received from the Bluebook folks?
5.22.2008 9:57am
AnneS:
The survey is available here
5.22.2008 10:40am
AnneS:
Sorry - it's available here
5.22.2008 10:43am
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
And I thought this post would be about those annoying little 8-page booklets some professors make you buy for exam essays, which never have enough room.
5.22.2008 11:38am
Simon P:
Many of these complaints regarding The Bluebook are off the mark. Solove's complaints don't seem to be related to any specific Bluebook rule I can locate and seem more likely to stem simply from poor editorial judgment. Your own is that The Bluebook does little in itself to advance legal scholarship. But The Bluebook is a style manual; it's not supposed to advance legal scholarship.

As such, the man-hours The Bluebook eliminates are the man-hours spent debating and trying to figure out how to clearly cite some proposition. What Alabama statutory compilation should I cite? How should I cite the Bundesverwaltungsgericht? What sorts of punctuation should I use in a cite? And so on. It's natural -- and completely professional -- for editors of law reviews and journals to want final answers for these questions which can be applied by multiple editors working concurrently. If The Bluebook didn't exist, at some point they'd have to ask these question and come to some sort of answer, in the process developing their own style manual. The Bluebook reduces that effort to simply looking a rule up. The Bluebook is a massive time-saver, not a time-sink.

Is The Bluebook inferior to a "simpler" system of citation like the Maroon Book? If the simpler systems simply impose back upon law review boards the task of developing uniform standards for situations not addressed by the style manual, then the answer is no. The argument against The Bluebook, then, reduces to an argument about editorial uniformity and its value. It might be said that, as long as a citation is necessary and clear, it is sufficient; it makes little difference if one article abbreviates "Georgetown" as "Geo." and another leaves it untouched. Further effort towards "uniformity" is wasted effort.

If all anyone cited were law review articles and major reporters, an intuitive "clarity norm" might be workable. But beyond the realm of the familiar, there is a universe of materials that authors cite for which no clarity norm is intuitively obvious. Citing even state statutory compilations -- to say nothing of internet or international sources -- can be tricky without some kind of guide. What year and edition does one cite? For the purpose of a given article, it may make little difference whether one of three editions published containing a particular amendment is used, but which would be best in terms of conveying to readers the appropriate information? The most recent? The most contemporaneous? How does one decide?

The suggestion to disavow The Bluebook and the comprehensive uniformity it enables just means that law review boards are going to be stuck with different kinds of questions that are going to occupy their time. It might eliminate some man-hours in terms of conforming citations to familiar sources, but it will increase man-hours devoted to determining whether a particular cite is "clear" enough for readers to be able to find the information they're looking for. Eventually, boards are just going to develop their own "clarity" guides, which will be de facto style guides, since every cite will at least have to conform to the standards of clarity developed therein.

The Bluebook is involved. It contains many rules. Mastery of the guide may be time better spent poring over legal scholarship or getting a tan, but the guide saves a great deal of time that would otherwise be spent developing journal-specific rules, either of "style," "uniformity," or "clarity." The Bluebook articulates a single language upon which we may all rely. It should be retained.
5.22.2008 12:13pm
AnneS:
Simon, I'll just point out that if your analysis were correct, you'd expect that the vastly simpler and less picayune systems of citation used in other disciplines would become more Bluebook-like as the editors of their journals "struggled" to deal with the ambiguities. They haven't. Any resulting lack of uniformity doesn't seem to have caused any problems. The Bluebook just doesn't have to be as complex and as long as it is.
5.22.2008 12:29pm
Randy R. (mail):
It's interesting that they solicit help from law professors. Do they profs get a share of the profits? Paid for their time? Credits? perhaps a free copy?

Seems like a great racket -- have professionals in the field contribute for free, then keep all the funds raised.
5.22.2008 1:11pm
Paul G. (mail) (www):
Feel free to pre-order the new, pocket-sized Texas Law Review Manual on Usage &Style, 11th ed. (2008) for only $12 and that includes USPS shipping! Anticipated to ship Monday, June 23rd. www.TexasLawPublications.com.
5.22.2008 1:20pm
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
Are they giving out new Bluebooks to anyone who is willing to answer their survey? If so, I have a lot of comments, just sign me up, I could use a new Bluebook, my old one has gathered a lot of dust and horse flies at the barn.
5.22.2008 1:41pm
theobromophile (www):
19th edition? I obviously skipped over the 18th edition entirely. Whoops. That's $20 less for Harvard, Yale, et. al.

Either I'm not OCD enough for the Bluebook (remote possibility), or it is a completely asinine system of citation. I've used the index and gone to what appears to be the relevant rule, only to find that there is some other rule, somewhere else in the tome, that applies.

Please tell me I'm not the only one who has omitted small sections of research papers, simply to avoid Bluebooking the relevant citations....
5.22.2008 2:32pm
Sean M:
The problem may not be with the Bluebook so much as doctrinal adherence to the Bluebook. In other words, it is that law reviews insist on perfection with the Bluebook.

Maybe we could keep the Bluebook and care less if italicization is done through the period or not. No one reads the footnotes /that/ carefully, we keep the "definitive" source, and abolish the manhours spent Bluebooking to precision.

There is Type I (caring too much about accuracy in cites) and Type II (caring too little about accuracy in cites). Law reviews commit a lot of Type I error in an effort to avoid Type II.
5.22.2008 3:28pm
scooby (mail):
Not a lawyer and have never even read a legal citation... do any of you use software for this? A quick search found this and this. Are there any problems with these products, aside from the fact that you can't use them on the quizzes?
5.22.2008 7:11pm
pcharles (mail):
The Bluebook may be a money-maker for the consortium of law reviews that publish it; however, at $25 it is a steal. Of all the books purchased for class use in law school, the Bluebook and your legal research text are the only ones you will actually use once you graduate from law school.

I have to say the racket are all these approximately $100 casebooks (that you law professors author) that change editions every year or so when a cheap free-standing supplement can certainly do the trick. One reason we see new editions is to prevent students and others from reselling casebooks on Amazon or Half.com. It is horrible how casebook publishers and authors are gouging students by publishing new editions prematurely.

In any event, the Bluebook should do away with the distinction between law review footnotes and court documents/legal memoranda for citations. These typeface conventions are confusing and stupid. If you don't know what I mean, look at the inside front cover and back cover of the Bluebook.

The Bluebook should also give better examples. Look at the second example for Rule 12.4(a) - Session Laws on page 106 of the 18th edition of the Bluebook. It provides this example for citing session laws:

Health Professions Education Extension Amendments of 1992, Pub. L. No. 102-408, 106 Stat. 1992.

The year of the act is 1992 and if that is part of the popular name then it is included as part of the popular name rather than at the end in a parenthetical. The second 1992 is actually the page number of the Statutes at Large citation. This citation is technically correct but it is a terrible example to include because it leads to confusion. How hard is it to find a public law that doesn't have the same number for the date and the Statutes at Large page number?

I also think the difference between Rule 10.2.1 and Rule 10.2.2 is silly. Why not just abbreviate everything in the case name and not worry about whether the case name is in a textual sentence or the case name is in a freestanding citation? This is needlessly confusing for students to learn.

Rule 15.8(a) is extremely unhelpful because it gives just examples but not the rules for citing a legal dictionary or a legal encyclopedia. Would it kill them to put the rule for citing a legal encyclopedia?
5.22.2008 8:17pm
pcharles (mail):
The Bluebook is like Windows, there may be other citation manuals that are better but The Bluebook is dominant.
5.22.2008 8:20pm
AnneS (www):
Theo- I never left out a section, but I have searched for other sources. When all else fails, I throw the Bluebook at the wall and just cite the source in some coherent manner. I don't think I ever lost points, but I did get an A- for a paper where I (a) substituted underline for small caps and (b) otherwise ignored the Bluebook whenever I got annoyed. Maybe I lost the points for bad citation? If so, it was definitely worth it.
5.22.2008 8:54pm
theobromophile (www):
AnneS,

I think I've done the same thing, too. If it's a small section - say, a few sentences - and I get really frustrated, I might just hit "delete" on those few sentences and call it a day. It usually depends on how much the professor cares about proper Bluebooking (as opposed to, say, consistent citation formats, whatever it may be, or some citation format that allows the reader to find the cited text with minimal effort).
5.22.2008 9:46pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
When I was on law review, I didn't hate the Bluebook that much, though I actually found the University of Chicago citation system more intuitive.

However, my big problem was actually with the law reviews themselves. There are a bunch of bluebook rules that are considered recommended and not mandatory. The first thing my law review did in its citation manual is make them all mandatory, which resulted in things like totally unnecessary parentheticals.
5.22.2008 10:06pm
WL 87:
"...By updating the book every 3 years or so (as is necessary due to (1) changes in internet and international sources but more importantly (2) the errors in the prior Bluebook), they force all legal professionals to routinely update their volumes..."

Sounds like RICO.

But who cares, isn't BlueBooking what RA's are for?
5.23.2008 7:00pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
I wish to approach this from an entirely different direction. As a blind person who reads lots of academic materials I will simply note that the highly in-line citation schemes used in all legal writing make those materials far less accessible to people who cannot skip the citation through the expedient of skimming over it.

I find citation methods such a [cite-number] with all the citations grouped into end notes far more readable, which was true even before I went blind. They simply interfere less with the stream of actual writing, as opposed to the references.

The highly abbreviated nature of legal citations also fails to help in this regard.
5.23.2008 11:19pm