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Bluebooking and Legal Citation: Citation Styles

Legal Citation in Law School

Q: What citation style should you use in law school?

A: Whatever your professor tells you to.

Some professors prefer Bluebook style, others prefer the California Style Manual, and many have specific rules for citing particular sources.

If your professor's instructions conflict with a style manual's rules, follow your professor's instructions.

Legal Citation in Practice

Q: What citation style will you use in practice?

A: Whatever the court tells you to.

Just like professors, different courts prefer different citation styles and many have specific rules for citing particular sources.

The Bluebook's Table BT2 summarizes the style requirements of courts throughout the U.S.

When courts do not have specific style requirements, Bluebook style is the safest, standard option.

When in doubt, you can also consult legal writing guides, look at the style used in cases published by the court, or ask a more experienced attorney.

Legal Citation in California

California state courts prefer for attorneys to use the California Style Manual but allow them to use the Bluebook. However, the courts always require attorneys to cite to the official reporters (Cal., Cal. App., and Cal. App. Supp.) rather than the Bluebook-mandated unofficial reporters (P. and Cal. Rptr.)

The Ninth Circuit and Central District Courts do not require a particular citation style, but Bluebook style is considered standard.

The courts do have rules for the citation of specific materials: 

Major Citation Styles

For lawyers practicing in California, the most important citation styles to know are the Bluebook, the California Style Manual, and, to a lesser extent, the ALWD Style Manual.

Flexible Citation Styles

The Bluebook's rigid, ultra-specific citation style has generated significant criticism over the years and prompted the development of styles that emphasize flexible, general guidelines.

Although these flexible styles have never come into general use, they help place the Bluebook in context by demonstrating radically different approaches to legal citation.

Specialized Citation Styles

Just as California has the California Style Manual, some other states also have their own style manuals, such as Texas's Greenbook and the Michigan Appellate Opinion Manual. Likewise, many foreign jurisdictions have their own style manuals, such as Australia's Australian Guide to Legal Citation or Canada's McGill Guide. Finally, there are a few specialized style manuals for particular types of material, such as the National Labor Relations Board's style manual for its own materials.

Listed below is a small selection of specialized style manuals available through the library. For complete information on specialized U.S. style manuals, see Table BT2 of the Bluebook. For complete information on foreign style manuals see the individual country entries in the Guide to Foreign and International Legal Citations.