The Bluebook and New York City

Let’s say you need a new chef’s knife. So you go to Bed, Bath & Beyond and head for the kitchen section. (That’s part of the “Beyond,” I guess.) In a fancy cutlery display you see a large selection of chef’s knives. But you don’t buy any of those. Instead, you walk right past the chef’s knives and over to the cheese knives. After perusing a bit, you buy this set:

That’s a nice set of cheese knives!

Looks pretty nice! But when you get home and start preparing dinner, the cheese knives just don’t seem to do the job. It’s a total disaster! The next morning you go back to BB&B to return the knives. “They didn’t work at all! I couldn’t even slice a tomato with these things!” you complain. “And don’t even get me started on what happened when I tried to dice an onion!”

Not surprisingly, the customer service rep at BB&B isn’t sympathetic. She calmly responds, “Sir, these are cheese knives.”

Obviously, nobody would ever do anything like that. We understand that different tools have different purposes. And you shouldn’t malign a tool for not working in circumstances for which it was not designed to work. Something clearly labeled “cheese knife” should be used for cheese, not dicing onions.

But for some reason, people malign The Bluebook for this sort of thing all the time. The most recent entry in the catalog is this piece from Judge Gerald Lebovits: Cite-Seeing Part II: The Bluebook’s New York Bloopers. Judge Lebovits pulls no punches in his critique of The Bluebook’s “mistakes”: It “fails miserably when it comes to New York citations.” “Every rule and example in the Bluebook violates how a practitioner, judge, or academic should cite New York authorities.” “The Bluebook’s rule also contradicts” various state rules and statutes. And “it’s not hard to spot incorrect examples for New York in the Bluebook.”

Yikes.

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Six Suggestions for Improving The Bluebook

So there I was on Sunday evening, October 7. A glass of scotch in hand, all ready to fill out the official Bluebook questionnaire, which would allow me to suggest improvements for the forthcoming 21st edition.

A dramatic reenactment of my preparation for the survey

But then I clicked on the link. Apparently, despite previous reassurances that the survey would be open until October 8, I was too late. The survey was already expired. 

I was not pleased.

Read the Suggestions

Don’t Be a Quitter! Think About Creating Stylish Citations.

Citations are like the weather: Everyone complains about them, but nobody does anything about it!

Until now.

If you’re a reader of this blog, you’re likely interested in legal writing. And you likely realize that legal writing is full of italicized text and parenthetical information and weird abbreviations that often come between sentences—the citations. I’ve previously written about citations. But I focused mostly on the isolated, narrow issue of citation format. I was interested in the citation as a citation. My take: The Bluebook, for lack of a better word, is good.

But an excellent new paper by Professor Alexa Z. Chew (of UNC School of Law) takes a much broader and more functional approach to legal citation. You should read it. Continue reading

The Substance of Citation (or a suggestion for the Washington Reporter of Decisions)

Like many states, Washington has its own citation rules. The Washington Style Sheet tells Washington judges and lawyers to use The Bluebookwith a few exceptions. So, for example, instead of citing statutes with “Wash. Rev. Code” we can just use “RCW.” And we don’t need to provide the publication date or publisher for citations to statutes. Huzzah! And instead of using just P.2d or P.3d to cite Washington cases, we also use Wn. App. and Wn.2d (no space!) as additional parallel citations. Continue reading

My Review of The Bluebook: The Reviews Are In!

Well, our long national nightmare is over. The Spring 2017 volume of the Journal of Legal Education has hit the digital newsstands; this volume includes my review essay on the latest edition of every lawyer’s favorite citation guide, The Bluebook. Early reviews of my essay have been uniformly… mediocre:

“[David Ziff] reviews the Bluebook”
Ryan Calo, UW School of Law

“Why?”
— 
Cristian Farias, Huffington Post

“Everybody knows The Bluebook sucks. What this article presupposes is—maybe it doesn’t?”
Ron FisherLatham & Watkins

“I nearly puked but I’ll still read it”
Sasha Moss, R Street Institute

“Scariest thing I’ve seen today… by far!”
Eric Segall, Georgia State University College of Law

“Anyone who wrote a 27 page book review of the Bluebook is not to be trusted.”
Jim Tyre, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Okay, so maybe those reviews are not great. But I’m pretty sure they were offered in the playful spirit shared by the essay itself. Seriously. I figured I couldn’t take myself too seriously while writing a 27-page book review of a legal citation manual. So while I certainly intended the essay to raise some important issues, I also tried to make it a fun read. I hope you enjoy it!

Everybody Hates The Bluebook: An Example

I’m taking a break from post-election thoughts to write about something much less upsetting: The Bluebook. I recently wrote a 27-page book review of the 20th Edition. Seriously. You should check it out.

In the review, I argue that many critiques of The Bluebook don’t critique the actual book. Rather, they seem to be upset about something altogether different, with The Bluebook just providing an easy target for their scorn.

An instant classic of the genre appeared today in Above The Law. An in-house lawyer offers a recommendation to future in-house lawyers: “Burn Your Bluebook.” Yikes! Look, I admit I’ve never worked as in-house counsel. And I wouldn’t be surprised if in-house lawyers rarely used The Bluebook. But the complaints in the article have almost nothing to do with The Bluebook. You could burn (or not burn) pretty much anything and you’d have just as much of an effect on the problems outlined in the article, since the author’s dispute is not with The Bluebook as a citation guide. Rather, the author seems to dislike providing any legal authority whatsoever in his memoranda. That’s fine! But that has nothing to do with The Bluebook, which contains rules to follow for when you do want to cite to legal authority in your memoranda. Continue reading