June 23, 2010
The Nineteenth Edition of The Bluebook: Introductory Thoughts on Why Legal Scholars Need a Publication Manual, not a Citation Manual
Posted by Christine Hurt

As some readers may know, I give a lot of thought to The Bluebook.  I am the co-author of The Interactive Citation Workbook, a citation workbook  with online exercises.  As if that wasn't enough, I have written an article on the Seventeenth Edition (Network Effects and Legal Citation:  How Antitrust Theory Predicts Who Will Build a Better Bluebook Mousetrap in the Age of Electronic Mice) and one on the Eighteenth Edition (The Bluebook at Eighteen:  Reflecting and Ratifying Current Trends in Legal Scholarship).  So, some people get excited about sporting events that come around every four years, but I get excited every five years when the new edition of The Bluebook is published.  So, I want to share with you the news that the Nineteenth Edition of The Bluebook is available.

In upcoming posts, I will talk about some of the changes in the Nineteenth Edition, which are not life-changing and are in expected areas (electronic sources).

Before I get to the details, however, I want to posit an idea that I have had for ten years now, but which I think is even more important now.  In a perfect, or even better, world, there would be two Bluebooks.  Many disciplines have style manuals (The MLA, the APA, the Chicago Manual of Style, the AMA, etc.), which sets out citation, stylistic and publication conventions for certain disciplines or professions.  The Bluebook, however, serves two very different masters.  It purports to be the citation manual for legal scholarship and also for professional legal documents.  These two types of writing are very different.  The Bluebook has historically been fairly successful at serving the needs of the legal scholar.  Over the years (or editions), the Bluebook has attempted to cater to the second of these goals by beefing up the rules for practitioner documents beginning in the Twelfth Edition, leading to the "Practitioners' Notes" in the Sixteenth Edition, and the even larger "Bluepages" of the Eighteenth Edition.  My concern ten years ago was that the Bluebook was becoming too unwieldy in its efforts to handle the two types, and that two self-contained citation manuals would be better:  one for legal scholarship and one for legal practitioners.

Today, however, I think this change is even more necessary because the nature of legal scholarship itself is changing.  The Bluebook's main objective over the years has been to standardize footnote citations in law review articles to print legal sources.  As legal scholarship has changed, The Bluebook is forced to catch up.  For example, the manual has been focused over the past three editions with figuring out a standard method of citing to electronic sources.  However, in five years, the Twentieth Edition will have to face a different and more far-reaching problem:  how to write about, present and cite to data.

Legal scholarship is no longer the doctrinal article that cites to cases, statutes and other law review articles.  Of course, citations have changed to more and more types of sources, including online sources and working papers.  But a great percentage of law review articles in the past five years has contained tables, graphs, appendices, etc.  And nothing in the Bluebook says anything about that.  So, if you've written an empirical article lately, you probably just winged it or you might have snuck a peak at a citation manual used in the social sciences, like the APA Manual, which contains useful information about presenting statistical information, tables, figures and appendixes.  Notably, it also has information on submission policies of American Psychological Association journals.  Notably, these other manuals devote only a portion of their pages to citation.

What if the legal studies discipline had a citation manual that gave helpful information on these types of article preparation questions?  Instead of every year someone posting to a blog a chart they made about submission policies of the Top 50 law reviews, what if the law reviews submitted these criteria for publication in a manual?  And the manual gave advice on such crazy things as preparing submissions to SSRN and BePress, presenting statistical information in an accessible way, retaining raw data, creating graphs, and even information on copyrights in your work?  Other citation manuals do this, but The Bluebook does not. 

As we all know, The Bluebook is revised by a crew of law students who are there for one edition only.  I'm not sure if this type of change would be attractive to or feasible by that type of authorship system.  Others have tried to improve the citation system of The Bluebook, most recently and notably the ALWD Citation Manual, but none of been stiff competition.  However, what I am talking about is something different, a true Publication Manual, which might be possible to attempt by a different institution (AALS?), group (some empirical legal studies group?) or individual authors. 

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