Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Some Observations on the Bluebook

The new nineteenth edition of the Bluebook will begin shipping in a few days and this blog will report on any interesting changes.  In the meantime, some general observations about the Bluebook:

As page one of the current eighteenth edition notes, the bulk of the Bluebook applies to "the law journal publication process," while a much shorter section near the beginning, printed on light blue paper, applies to "practicing lawyers" (just over 20 pages, not including a local rule list).  The front and back inside covers contain citation examples that directly compare the law journal and real-world formats, respectively.

Wait.  The bulk of the Bluebook is not geared toward actual lawyering?  Is this a bad thing?  Or could the few practicing attorney pages be the answer to commentator and humorist calls for simpler citation rules?

On the last question, yes and no.  The practicing attorney pages do concisely cover the most common citations (cases, statutes, articles, etc.) and reduce some lily-gilding (e.g., no large and small caps; see front and back covers, as well as page 24).  However, obscure citations, found outside the practitioner pages, cut the other way.  Where a law journal editor can simply look up obscure citations in the main part of the Bluebook, the practicing attorney must look up such citations and convert them (e.g., change large and small caps).  Depending on the number of obscure citations, such conversions can be burdensome.
Having said this, no citation system can be completely simple and pain-free, because the canon remains wide open to new sources (e.g., blogs) and, in turn, new citation rules.  The Bluebook, and any other citation system, cannot avoid the tension between consistency and variety, simplicity and complexity—although practice can reduce that tension by making the complex familiar.  We will soon see how complex the familiar has become, when the new Bluebook edition arrives.