July 05, 2005
Eighteenth Edition of the Bluebook: A Review
Posted by Christine Hurt

Eighteenth EditionSeventeenth Edition

Ah, every five years a young law student's heart turns to citation and publishes another edition of the Bluebook.  This year is no exception, and the Eighteenth Edition is widely available.  Along with new editions of the Bluebook, every five years there is an avalanche of book reviews critiquing the newest edition, or I should say "excoriating."  More pages have been spent on pointing out flaws in the Bluebook than there are pages in all editions combined:  the wrongheadedness of the theory behind the Bluebook (keep trying to cover every single citation situation, even if the manual becomes 1000 pages long); the inconsistencies and typos in each edition (nearly unavoidable, I would think); the negative externalities (trauma to law students and increased costs to legal consumers); the inherent biases (West paper publications, federal law); the comical in-jokes (cyclically replacing examples with examples that cite staffers' work and staffers' professors' work); and the disconnect between practitioners' needs and the focus of the Bluebook on scholarly writing.  I will not be writing a review of the Eighteenth, but I do have some thoughts on the newest edition for the citation nerds among us.  Keep reading if you are brave. . . .

1.  The Bluebook as Ratifier.  Because the Bluebook is published in approximately five year cycles, the Bluebook is not so much a harbinger of changes on the citation horizon, but a ratifier of changes already made or in the progress of being made in how scholars are doing research and on what they are researching.  For example, the growth in Bluebook pages devoted to international and foreign law materials was a response to the growth in articles with international or comparative topics.  The Sixteenth Edition added a rule on citing to emails and webpages, and the Seventeenth Edition added a whole bevy of rules (under the heading Rule 18) on citing to materials found on the Internet (and omitting the rule on merely citing to a website, which I still don't understand.)  The Bluebook will always be a step or two behind, but at least for now our citation manual is almost current.  Under the Eighteenth Edition, Rule 18 was completely reworked, and the main result is that citing a website is infinitely easier, which was probably the authors' intention.  Also, the Eighteenth Edition contains a new rule on citing to working papers, showing as examples papers on SSRN and NBER (new Rule 17.3).

2.  Rule 18.  The Eighteenth Edition rewrites Rule 18, and I think it is a lot clearer.  Instead of framing the citation rule as writer citing to a source that appears on the Internet, you are citing to the content of the website as a source unto itself.  For example, if I wanted to post to a statement of the CEO of GE on the GE website, I would have to decide if the statement was an article, a letter, a press release, what have you.  Now, it's one and the same.  I still have the same problem with Rule 18 that I did in the previous edition, and that is that citing to a paper source is still heavily favored over an electronic copy.  For many sources, this may be a good rule of thumb.  The article that appeared today in the WSJ will be the same ten years from now preserved in a library either in hard copy or on microfiche, but that article on wsj.com will be reworked as the day goes on, with the title changing, or some of the text.  However, my main complaint is that for statutes, the hard copy preference is unrealistic for practitioners.  I doubt that the rule is really followed for many practitioners who find out-of-state statutes online and then just make up a print copy date to use in the citation.  If it is, then I pity the client that had to pay for someone to drive to the local law library to check the copyright date of the statute book, when the current edition is on the far-from-ephemeral state website.  I wish I knew if this continued denial of reality is the product of law students who live next to the world's largest library, with every state statute book within its walls, or the product of a deep-seated loyalty to West and LexisNexis and fear of medium neutral citation.

3.  Out With the Practitioners' Notes, In With the Bluepages.  A few editions ago, the Bluebook editors (sort of) heard the cry of practitioners that the Bluebook was too focused on scholarly writing that only a small percentage of J.D. folk actually do.  So, the Bluebook came up with the wimpy "Practitioners' Notes" on light blue pages at the beginning of the book.  These pages were in ugly courier font, with ugly underlining instead of italics, and of course no "large and small caps."  At some point in history, scholarly articles were published by a printer, who could make large and small caps and italics, but lawyers' documents were typed by a secretary on a typewriter, who could only underline the ugly courier type.  So, different rules emerged for citing sources in an office memorandum or a court document and for citing sources in a scholarly article.  At this point, any fool with a computer can use any font or font attribute known to man, so why keep the distinction?  The ALWD Manual, the Bluebook's only competitor, abolished the distinction five years ago.  When the editors of the Bluebook asked for comments for the Eighteenth Edition, my ICW co-author and I wrote a lengthy letter with a passionate appeal to abolish the distinctions between practitioners' documents and scholarly articles.  Instead of following that advice, the editors expanded the number of pages devoted to practitioners' documents.  (One of my arguments was that the dichotomy made life hard for first-year law students, who have to flip back and forth between the Practitioners' Notes and the main pages in order to write their appellate briefs and memos.  I guess expanding the practitioners' pages could theoretically solve that problem, but not really.)  So, now we have the Bluepages, that almost stand alone, but not quite.

I've researched the citation manuals in other disciplines, and of course, this dichotomy is unique to law because our practitioners and academics both write to a wide audience as a daily practice, but in distinguishable types of documents.  The other way around this, besides abolishing the distinction, would be to sell two different citation manuals.  One for citation in office memos and court documents, and the other for scholarly articles.  The book for practice documents would be the one that students would buy for Legal Research and Writing and moot court classes and would be much shorter and workable.

4.  Other changes.  Most other changes are quite de minimus:  renumberings here, new examples there.  For some reason, we need to cite to tax documents like private letter rulings and technical advice memoranda with "I.R.S." in front now (I.R.S. Priv. Ltr. Rul. or I.R.S. Tech. Adv. Mem.).  I guess the Treasury people were tired of taking flak?  There is also a new Rule 14.6(e) for assistance in citing to annual reports, proxy statements and other securities law filings.  I've already used that one.

5.  And finally. . . the front and back covers are laminated.  As you can see from the pictures above, my front cover of the Seventeenth is on its last days, and the back cover is long gone.  Maybe the Eighteenth will hold up a little better.

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