Citation Woes As Bluebook Releases its 20th Edition

Remember scouring your law school essays and law review articles to make sure every name was italicized? Recall the hours spent pouring over your Bluebook citation manual trying to figure out how to quote that pesky online journal? If those were fond memories, I have good news: the Bluebook has released its 20th edition with pages of new rules and examples to memorize! For the rest of us, this new wave of revisions bring citation woes – especially for those in the midst of the editing process.

The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation is the attribution Bible for lawyers across the country. It painstakingly outlines the rules for quoting and citing everything from binding Supreme Court precedent to off-hand comedic images. There are rules for just about everything.

Earlier this year, many of those rules changed. The Bluebook released its 20th Edition, much to the chagrin of law students and legal authors.

Famed legal writer Brian Garner explains the frustration caused by a new edition of the citation rules:

One of my research assistants recently corrected proofs of a book I’m working on by abbreviating the first word in a litigant’s name: Se. for Southeastern. I responded by patiently encouraging her to go look at The Bluebook: “First of all, you don’t abbreviate the first word in a corporate litigant’s name—ever. Second, ‘Southeastern’ should be ‘S.E.’ or ‘SE,’ but certainly not ‘Se.’ “

Within minutes, she produced the 19th edition of The Bluebook, which said that first words in litigants’ names are now abbreviated, and the abbreviation for “Southeastern” is indeed “Se.” It seems I was remembering a rule from the 15th edition of 1991, and I hadn’t realized the rule had changed. Somebody had moved my cheese—and in any event I immediately concluded that it had gone rancid.

If this seems like much ado about nothing, consider the time and energy it takes to get all of the citations exactly right in a law review article or legal book. Hours of careful examination and revision. Now a new edition with new citation rules means the author needs to start over again. Brian Garner again:

But by the time the second edition of Modern Legal Usage appeared in 1995, the rule had changed: First names and middle initials were to be included. This rule shift meant hunting down dozens of first names and middle initials from the first edition. Great fun.

Garner suggests that these kinds of small changes are nothing more than planned obsolescence – changes by the next generation of law students trying to distinguish themselves from their predecessors.

But some updates – especially when it comes to electronic resources – recognize changes in the way writers do their research. They also acknowledge the credibility of online news sources and journals. More than changes in abbreviations or formatting, these changes help bring the legal industry into the next generation. That is why established citation authorities like The Bluebook need to keep their rules up to date and in touch with modern writing trends.

Author Lisa Schmidt

Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist. She provides legal writing services to attorneys and editorial services for legal authors. If you need an experienced draft writer or editor contact Legal Linguist to schedule a meeting today.

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