The Worst System of Citation Except for All the Others
Journal of Legal Education, Vol. 66, No. 3, Pp. 668-95 (2017)
29 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2016 Last revised: 15 Apr 2017
Date Written: October 31, 2016
Everybody hates The Bluebook — the generally adopted and generally reviled system of citation for lawyers, judges, law students, professors, and everyone else who writes about the law. Like most people who’ve used The Bluebook, I have a personal list of least-favorite rules. Others have gone further, authoring lengthy articles cataloguing The Bluebook’s faults and missteps over the decades.
And yet, here we are. Now in its twentieth edition, The Bluebook continues to cast its shadow over the legal profession just as it has for almost 100 years, helping legal writers format their references to authorities in briefs, memoranda, opinions, and law review articles. Previous critiques have offered various theories for why, despite its problems, The Bluebook remains the standard for legal citation. Ivy League elitism, the first-mover advantage, and lawyers’ conservative preference for the status quo have all been offered to explain the seemingly inexplicable: If this system is so terrible, then why are we still stuck with it?
One potential answer to that question has remained largely unexplored by previous scholarship, because previous scholarship has accepted the question’s underlying premise. This essay endeavors to fill that gap in the literature by offering a novel explanation for The Bluebook’s continued existence: Perhaps The Bluebook survives because it’s not so terrible after all. Perhaps The Bluebook works quite well for the task it was designed to perform.
Keywords: Legal Writing, Bluebook, Legal Citation, Legal Education, Indigo Book
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation