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Bluebooking and Legal Citation: Getting Perspective

The Bluebook on the Bluebook

"The Bluebook can often be intimidating for new users."

The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation 1 (Columbia Law Review Ass'n et al. eds., 19th ed. 2010).

Judge Posner on the Bluebook

Judge Posner

Richard Posner at Harvard University by chensiyuan / CC BY-SA 4.0

"It is a monstrous growth, remote from the functional need for legal citation forms, that serves obscure needs of the legal culture and its student subculture....

I am put in mind of Mr. Kurtz's dying words in Heart of Darkness - "The horror! The horror!" -and am tempted to end there."

The Bluebook on Judge Posner

Image of suit with Bluebook head.

Anonymous Suit Logo by Anynonymoose / CC BY-SA 2.0

"Judge Posner's description of bad legal writing may not be original, but for the most part it is depressingly accurate. In promoting his remedy of choice, however, Judge Posner is selling the bathwater with the baby.

The creativity in citation form encouraged by the Maroon Book is much like creativity in spelling or grammar. James Joyce can get away with it. Tizz debitabottle, howdyever, wither de Wake a Zen expropriape mottle fur lorry view pros."

Perspectives on the Bluebook

  • Frustrated by conflicting rules?
  • Baffled by the italicization of id.?
  • Enraged that the Bluebook has over 500 pages of rules but nothing that applies to your citation?

You're not alone. Many judges, law professors, and lawyers have railed against the Bluebook over the years- and others have sprung to its defense.

Below is a sampling of articles both for and against the Bluebook. Take comfort in the knowledge that lawyers, judges, legal writing instructors, and even former Bluebook editors frequently find it as baffling as you do. Or gain a new appreciation for the Bluebook through the eyes of its fans.

Critics on the Bluebook

Posner is a federal judge, former president of the Bluebook-producing Harvard Law Review and arguably the Bluebook's most vituperative critic. His articles are a must-read for any serious Bluebook-hater:

Another former Harvard Law Review Editor also has some doubts:

As do those who have taught legal writing:

Or even written guides to legal citation:

Not to mention ordinary attorneys and law students:

Give the journals that edit the Bluebook credit for taking criticism well. They have been publishing articles critical of their own style guide for over forty years:

As Posner notes, Yale even "graciously consented" not to Bluebook the citations in his "Bluebook Blues."

Fans on the Bluebook