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About Legal Citation: The Basics

About the Bluebook

There are three sections in the Bluebook:

  1. Bluepages – documents you file with courts. This is used more in practice than in law school.
  2. White pages – more detailed rules; primarily for academic arena. Within this:
    1. Rules 1-9 apply to all types of sources. These rules include signals, quotations, typeface, order of authorities, short cites, etc. 
    2. Rules 10-21 on specific types of sources. Each rule focuses on a certain source, like cases or administrative materials. These rules may have their own guidelines or variations to the rules outlined in 1-9; for example, specific short rules.
  3. Tables – show jurisdiction specific authorities and citations; abbreviations.

BB can be ambiguous. You are not alone in disliking it. Richard Posner, US 7th Circuit Appeals Judge, is famous for his criticism of the Bluebook.

My favorite examples that show some BB problems:

  1. For the short citation form "id", you use an "at" for page numbers, but you cannot use an "at" for section or paragraph symbols. Why? Because they said so.
  2. Table 1.2 discusses citation to IRS materials. It prefers citation to the Cumulative Bulletin (C.B.) over the Internal Revenue Bulletin (I.R.B.). But the I.R.S. stopped consolidating the I.R.B. into the C.B. in 2008 – a couple of BB editions ago.

Important Note!

The Bluebook is not everything!

If you have any specific citation conventions from your employer, professor, via court rules, etc. be sure to follow those first.

There are other citations guides, some of which may be adopted by courts. (For example, the AWLD Citation Manual; the Supreme Court’s Style Guide; and the Universal Citation Guide.)

  • There may be subject-specific guides. (For example, Guide to Foreign and International Legal Citations (2009); Guide to Louisiana and Selected French Legal Materials and Citation, 67 Tul. L. Rev. 1305 (1993); TaxCite: A Federal Tax Citation and Reference Manual (1995) - we have this in the library, but it will be very dated in terms of electronic access. 
  • Citations to international and foreign sources can be incredibly confusing. In the Bluebook, be sure to read the entirety of Rules 20 (Foreign Materials) and 21 (International Materials) in conjunction with their relevant tables in T1 and T2. You may also wish to consult N.Y. Univ. Sch. of Law Journal of Int’l Law & Politics, Guide to Foreign and International Legal Citations (2nd ed. 2009). K89 .G85 2009 (reference).

Pro-Tip

Pro-Tip: You will actually have to read the rule!

It sounds simple, but there are no shortcuts to becoming proficient in legal citation. You may not want to read seven pages worth of rules on case names (Rule 10.2), but you will need to take the time to do so. When you put in more effort as you learn to cite, it will eventually take you less time. As with most aspects of legal education, there is a learning curve.

 

Less of a Pro-Tip: If you cannot figure out the citation in five minutes, see if it's been cited by another reputable source. 

This is likely more helpful in the academic atmosphere (i.e., journals and research assistants). Go the Law Journal Library at HeinOnline; here you can do a full text search of thousands of law journals. This will also search the text of the footnotes, allowing you to see how other journals have chosen to cite a particular resource and see the exact typeface utilized (i.e., small caps, italics, Roman, etc.). This is crucial to a correct citation, and because these are law journals, you can be more confident that they utilize the Bluebook (as opposed to a journal that may use APA standards). On the search results list, select "All Matching Text Pages" - this will give you a preview so you can see if the term you searched is in the footnotes. You can then select "Turn to page". 

 

Tip on foreign sources: 

Sometimes it can be difficult to find the exact foreign source you are looking for because it is not widely available in the US or perhaps it is only in a language you cannot read. Remember that under BB Rule 20, you can cite to a translation. Say you are a reading a report from the Law Library of Congress that translates a Dutch law. You would combine a citation to that law with a reference to where you found the translation. Here's the example from the BB of a Mexican law reprinted in a United Nations document: Ley Federal de Derechoes de Autor [LFDA], Diario Oficial de la Federacion [DOF] 21-12-1963 (Mex.), translated in Copyright Laws and Treaties of the World 521 (U.N. Educ., Scientific & Cultural Org. et al. eds., 1992). This rule is important for two reasons: 1) the availability of online information varies widely by jurisdiction; 2) you should be citing to what you are actually researching from - it is the correct thing to do and it can lead future scholars to appropriate resources.

 

Don't some databases have a cite when you copy information? Why not just use that?

Primarily, you should be able to do the work on your own. Secondly, not every source you use will have these tools. Most importantly - these tools are frequently incorrect! As the BB changes, the computer programs that create the cites need to be updated. Plus, an important part of the BB are rules on style, and many of these tools use the wrong typeface - potentially because the computer does not support it. For example, there is an incorrect citation in the above section on foreign sources - the title of the UN document should be in small caps, but this computer program will not display small caps. Bottom line: if you're name is on the work, you should ensure it is correct to the best of your ability.

Library Resources

Several of the below books will have practice tools in addition to explanations. If you decide you want to practice your Bluebook-ing skills in this way, you may want to utilize the Bluebook exercises on Lexis Advance: from the home page, look to the black bar at the top of the page and select the arrow next to "Lexis Advance Research", then select LexisNexis Interactive Citation Workstation.