Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Twenty-First Edition of The Bluebook: Time to Discuss Using Other Citation Manuals Instead

I hope everyone is staying safe as our COVID-19 online work and classes continue.  In case you missed the (unwelcome) news with everything else happening, the publishers of The Bluebook:  A Uniform System of Citation, will release the Twenty-First Edition in May.

Like many former Law Review editors and Legal Writing teachers, I am comfortable with parts of The Bluebook.  I delight in perfect citation form when writing scholarly articles and briefs.  Good citations show credibility and help the court and other readers understand your advocacy.  But now is not the time to ask students and lawyers to buy a new citation manual, and we should take this opportunity to discuss adopting other citation manuals.

California, Florida, and some other states have their own style manuals and do not follow The Bluebook.  Additional states have their own gloss on key The Bluebook rules or allow use of other manuals.  Rule 28 of the Alabama Rules of Appellate Procedure, for example, tells counsel to use The Association of Legal Writing Directors Citation Manual: A Professional System of Citation (the ALWD Guide), The Bluebook, or otherwise follow the citation style of the Alabama Supreme Court. 

Moreover, each new edition of The Bluebook seems to increase not only the price so many first-year law students must pay, but the depth of unneeded complexity for minor details far afield of the case citations needed for effective appellate advocacy.  Retired Seventh Circuit Judge Posner criticized The Bluebook often.  In a 2011 Yale Law Journal article, he called the 511-page Nineteenth Edition “a monstrous growth, remote from the functional need for legal citation forms, that serves obscure needs of the legal culture and its student subculture.”  Richard A. Posner, The Bluebook Blues, 120 Yale L. J. 850, 851 (2011).  As Judge Posner explained, The Bluebook was only 26 pages long when it was first published in 1926, and he could not find good cause in law or economics for its huge expansion.  Id. at 851, 854, 858-60.  The Twentieth Edition is a robust 560 pages, not counting the pages printed on the inside front and back covers.  

Legal writing authority Bryan Garner agreed.  Garner noted:  “What I’ve come to realize is that when it comes to The Bluebook, small changes are made for the sake of making small changes.”  Bryan Garner, The Bluebook's 20th Edition Prompts Many Musings From Bryan Garner, ABA Journal (Aug. 1 2015).  He likened the changes to “the principle at work with smartphone chargers (your old ones won’t work on your new gear), iPod connections (ditto), lightbulbs and even coursebooks,” all to “avoid the forgone profits represented by a secondhand market.”  Id.

In 2017, appellate practitioner Wendy S. Loquasto reviewed the pros and cons of all major citation manual options.  Wendy S. Loquasto, Legal Citation:  Which Guide Should You Use and What Is the Difference?, 91 Fla. Bar J. 39, 40-42 (2017).  She concluded practitioners who are not bound by a state manual should consider the ALWD Guide and The Indigo Book, as “compatible with The Bluebook [and] easier-to-use guides.”  Id. at 42.  If you have not read the completely free The Indigo Book, I highly recommend you check out its “Open and Compatible Implementation of A Uniform System of Citation.”

Several of my past teaching colleagues used the ALWD Guide or applicable state manuals, reasoning students were better prepared for practice with a simpler or more widely-used manual.  While I stood by The Bluebook longer than many, when the initial price for the Twentieth Edition was $100, according to our bookstore, I told my students they could use the Nineteenth Edition until the price for the Twentieth Edition lowered.  I started teaching my students about the “Yellow Book” in California, and exposing them to the ALWD Guide and The Indigo Book

Now, in the midst of COVID-19 and concerns about student and lawyer financial and emotional stress, we face the Twenty-First Edition of The Bluebook.  While The Bluebook is well-established for sure, and some jurisdictions require it, those of us with a choice should wait on adopting the new version.  The price for the new edition will only decrease over time, and as we await the return of in-person law practice and teaching, we can also think about what manual really serves our students and practices best.

I wish you all good health.

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The Bluebook is bloated. Three years of law school leads the student editors to believe that the accretion of new material creates a more valuable pearl rather than a more unusable relic. And a big hat tip for the recommendation of the The Indigo Book!

Posted by: Brad Pearce | Apr 27, 2020 6:46:17 AM

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