November 20, 2013
One of the first topics that was addressed in a traditional legal research course was how to cite a case. The rules were intricate, and often made little sense to those just starting to learn the ways of the law, but there was simplicity to the instruction: everything was set out in the “Bluebook.” As you know, the Bluebook, known more formally as The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, is a listing of rules for citation forms for court documents and scholarly legal articles. The Bluebook’s status as the final arbiter of legal citation forms was challenged in 1989, when students at the University of Chicago Law School published the “Maroonbook.” The Maroonbook did not attempt to be an exhaustive collection of citation rules. Instead, the authors developed a “simple, malleable framework for citation, which authors and editors can tailor to suit their purposes.” Although the Maroonbook is the preferred citation guide for student journals published at the University of Chicago Law School, it has not been widely adopted.
Another challenge to Bluebook domination came in 2000, with the publication of the first edition of the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) Guide to Legal Citation. The Guide has been adopted as the preferred citation form for several courts, such as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Several law schools and legal periodicals also use ALWD citation forms. The citation forms in the Guide are very similar to those in the Bluebook, except for citations in articles in journals. The citation forms for documents submitted to a court are the same. Most practitioners and other users of citation forms probably will not notice a difference between the two formats.
The citation picture is complicated somewhat by court rules that adopt local forms for citations. Some of the local rules are merely a preferred way of citing to state court cases. Other courts—such as New York and Texas—have adopted style manuals that supplement the Bluebook. Some states—such as California and Michigan—have comprehensive citation systems that completely replace the Bluebook (in California, either the Bluebook or the California forms of citation may be used, but most judges or courts have expressed an opinion for one form). You probably are familiar with any special citation rules in the courts in which you practice. It goes without saying that you should familiarize yourself with the local rules on citations before filing any documents in a new or unfamiliar court.
Are there consequences for improper citation? A very brief search did not turn up any reports of documents being rejected by a court because legal authority did not have the correct citation. On the other hand, a judge who is a stickler for this sort of thing may note your error in her opinion, leaving you to explain to your client just what it means. There is also the embarrassment of looking sloppy to your opponent in the case. Learning and using citations correctly is also important outside the realm of court documents. If you want to find a particular case or statute on LexisNexis, you will need to enter the correct citation form. LexisNexis uses the standard Bluebook forms for retrieving material by citation, so even if your state uses its own style, you should stay familiar with the Bluebook forms.