The Secret History of the Bluebook

36 Pages Posted: 1 Dec 2015 Last revised: 11 Jul 2017

Date Written: November 30, 2015


The Bluebook, or Uniform System of Citation as it was formerly titled, has long been a significant component of American legal culture. The standard account of the origins of the Bluebook, deriving directly from statements made by longtime Harvard Law School Dean and later Solicitor General of the United States Erwin N. Griswold, maintains that the citation manual originated at the Harvard Law Review in the 1920s and was created or adapted by Dean Griswold himself. This account is wildly erroneous, as proven by intensive research we conducted in the archives of Harvard and Yale. In fact, the Bluebook grew out of precursor manuals at Yale Law School, apparently inspired by a legal scholar even more important than Griswold, namely Karl N. Llewellyn. The "uniform citations" movement that began at Yale was actually at first opposed by Harvard.

In his most extreme misstatement, Griswold asserted that a collaborative decision was made in the 1920s by Harvard Law Review, Yale Law Journal, Columbia Law Review, and University of Pennsylvania Law Review to share the revenues from publishing the Bluebook (eventually amounting to millions of dollars) among the four journals. There is indeed now four-way revenue-sharing, but it did not commence until the 1970s, and then only after a revolt of the three "junior partners" against Harvard Law Review's complete monopolization of Bluebook income for half a century, a revolt initiated by Joan Wexler of the Yale Law Journal.

Some readers may question whether originating the hyper-complicated Bluebook should be a source of pride for Yale. Our response is that, although the Bluebook version that subsequently developed under the leadership of Harvard Law Review currently consists of 582 pages, the two earliest Yale precursors of the Bluebook were, respectively, one page and fifteen pages long.

Keywords: Bluebook, Uniform System of Citation, Yale Law Journal, Harvard Law Review, Karl N. Llewellyn, Erwin N. Griswold, citation form

Suggested Citation

Shapiro, Fred and Krishnaswami, Julie Graves, The Secret History of the Bluebook (November 30, 2015). Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 100, No. 4, 2016; Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 560. Available at SSRN:

Fred Shapiro (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

Julie Graves Krishnaswami

Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520
United States
2034327934 (Phone)

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