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Singing the Bluebook blues

John Cord//March 28, 2011

Singing the Bluebook blues

By John Cord

//March 28, 2011

As an English literature major, someone who wants to be reincarnated as Bryan Garner, and a kid who spent recess in with the teacher (not because I was in trouble, but because it was safer), I have a soft spot for the The Bluebook. For the non-lawyers among you, The Bluebook is the primary citation format for legal writing, beginning in law school. It contains formulae for the citation of everything from dictionaries to novels to the World Wide Web. It is now in its 19th edition, having started from humble beginnings in 1926.

The Bluebook is not the only citation scheme out there, though it is probably still the most popular. Its major competitor, ALWD (pronounced “Allwood”), has been gaining ground in law schools in recent years. Back in 2000 when I started at the University of Colorado School of Law, our legal writing department taught us exclusively from ALWD. I found this to be irritating in 2001 when I had to shell out cash (I was a poor law student, after all) to buy a Bluebook, as it was the citation format mandated for moot court. I found this to be even more irritating when I started practicing and realized that the Bluebook was the norm, and I learned a different form. In the past few years, though, I’ve come to love it.

However, the reality is that the hard and fast rules set forth in the Bluebook and ALWD are not really hard and fast rules. In the end, we must only follow those rules set forth by the courts. Otherwise, the rules should be broken for purposes of efficiency, clarity and maybe even author preference. There is precedent for this viewpoint. As reported by The Daily Record’s Danny Jacobs, Judge Glenn T. Harrell, Jr., recently footnoted that:

With all due respect to the Bluebook, beyond this point in this opinion, we shall omit the parenthetical “(________, J., dissenting)” from our pinpoint citation format, unless it is unclear from context that it is the dissenting opinion to which we are referring.

Maybe this is a bit like saying we all have the right to make up words just because Shakespeare did it. But, I think we do.

The goal when submitting briefs is readability. We should do our best to make the brief flow well, and to be understandable. Sometimes repetitive and convoluted citations can get in the way of our arguments. Though judges and opposing counsel should be able to refer exactly to our sources, they should also be able to understand what we mean without re-reading the same sentence two or three times. Go ahead, break the rules.


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