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Researching Environmental Law: About Legal Citation

About the Bluebook

The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (21st ed., 2020), KF245 .B58 2020, is the most widely-used legal citation guide in the U.S. legal system.  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.

The Bluebook can be frustrating, to many users. Richard Posner, the noted judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, is a noted critic of the Bluebook and wrote these two critiques of it:

These two examples show some issues with the Bluebook:

  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 (see Bluebook Rule 4.1).
  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.

Pro-Tip: Using the Correct Citation

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 Bluebook 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 Bluebook 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 Bluebook changes, the computer programs that create the cites need to be updated. Plus, an important part of the Bluebook 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 your name is on the work, you should ensure it is correct to the best of your ability.

Important Note!

The Bluebook is not everything!

If you have any specific citation guidelines from your employer, professor, etc., be sure to follow those.

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

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. 


All original content copyright 2022 Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Library. This guide may be used for educational purposes, as long as proper credit is given. This guide may not be sold. Requests to republish or adapt a guide should be directed to the Library Director. Proper credit includes the statement: Written by, or adapted from, Loyola University New Orleans Law Library.