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.