The Case for Abolishing the Bluebook

I am very happy to learn from Senior Conspirator Eugene Volokh that the editors of the Bluebook are apparently regular readers of the VC. While we have their attention, I hope they might be willing to read my 2006 post where I advocated abolition of the Bluebook and its replacement by a simpler citation system. Here is a summary of my arguments from that post:

The Blue Book…. is the enormously complicated citation system used in most law reviews and (to a lesser extent) legal documents. It is a massive tome, over 400 pages long, with rules for every conceivable situation and some that probably are not conceivable to anyone who has not had the painful experience of reading the Blue Book….. I propose… abolishing this monstrosity and replacing it with a simple citation system such as that used in virtually every other academic field. Here are the reasons why:

1. The Blue Book is an enormous waste of time and effort.

Every year, law review editors across the country spend thousands of man-hours editing articles to make sure that they conform to the Blue Book rules, taking Blue Book tests, and engaging in other Blue Book-related activities…. This time could easily be spent in more productive ways, such as studying, research, clinical work, or even working on your tan at the beach.

2. There is no evidence that the Blue Book improves the quality of scholarship.

There is zero evidence that having a hyper-complex citation system improves the quality of legal scholarship. Similarly, there is no evidence that other academic fields with simple citation systems have lower-quality scholarship as a result. Indeed, the opposite is more likely to be true, since time devoted to Bluebooking could instead be devoted to improving research quality…..

3. The University of Chicago Law Review precedent.

The University of Chicago Law Review and other Chicago journals have been using a much simpler citation system, the Maroon Book, since 1986. There is no evidence that the quality of scholarship in the U. of Chicago Law Review declined as a result.

4. Faculty-edited journals.

Most faculty edited law journals use simplified citation systems. This is a sign that leading scholars…. do not consider the Blue Book an essential element of good scholarship (or at least that they do not believe the benefits of bluebooking to be worth the cost…) [Note - I am now myself an editor of the Supreme Court Economic Review, where I have continued the previously established policy of using the Maroon Book].

I first advocated Bluebook abolition back when I was a member of the Yale Law Journal (one of the journals that publishes the Bluebook) more than a decade ago. Richard Posner promoted the idea long before me. Unfortunately, perverse incentives prevent most law journal editorial boards from adopting a simpler citation system. I’m not optimistic that things will change anytime soon. But perhaps the newfound respect for the VC evident in the most recent Bluebook is an early sign of citation system change we can believe in.

UPDATE: I also wrote about Bluebook abolition in this 2008 post.