Skip to Main Content

Bluebooking and Legal Citation

About Legal Citation

Legal citation aims to create uniform, understandable references to laws that make them easy for readers to look up.  

The Bluebook is overwhelmingly the most popular legal citation style and is the main focus of this guide.  However, this guide also provides an overview of other citation styles that are important for California law students and lawyers to know, such as the California Style Manual, as well as guides, tutorials, tools, and troubleshooting tips.

Why Legal Citation?

For new law students and even experienced attorneys, legal citation is frequently overwhelming and frustrating. At its worst, legal citation can feel confusing, pedantic, and pointless.

At its best, however, legal citation allows writers to clearly and concisely direct their readers to laws and secondary sources that support their argument.

Compare the following citations:

The good-luck-finding-it style:

Under the former California Civil Procedure Code, courts construed the term “resident” to mean “domiciliary.” Smith v. Smith, Witkin, “Personal Jurisdiction over Absent Natural Persons.”

The long-and-confusing style:

Courts construed the term “resident” in Section 417 of the California Civil Procedure Code as amended in 1951 to mean “domiciliary.” Deering's Annotated Code of Civil Procedure. For an example of this interpretation see Smith v. Smith, Supreme Court of California, Pacific Reporter (Second Edition), volume 288, page 499. This interpretation is also discussed the fifth edition of Witkin, California Procedure, Jurisdiction, Section 128, page 707 and in “Personal Jurisdiction over Absent Natural Persons” by W. P. Clancey Jr. in the California Law Review, Volume 44, page 743.

Bluebook style:

Courts construed the term “resident” to mean “domiciliary.” Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 417 (Deering 1951) (repealed 1969); see, e.g., Smith v. Smith, 288 P.2d 497, 499 (Cal. 1955); see also 2 B.E. Witkin, California Procedure Jurisdiction § 128 (5th ed. 2008); W. P. Clancey Jr., Personal Jurisdiction over Absent Natural Persons, 44 Calif. L. Rev. 739, 743 (1956).

Ultimately, even the editors of the notoriously pedantic Bluebook agree that the purpose of legal citation is to help your readers find the source you want them to read. Keeping that in mind may make Bluebooking less frustrating- and if it doesn't, see our page on getting perspective.