English Grammar and Usage, Federal Judges, Law Reviews, Legal Research, Richard Posner

Grammer Pole of the Weak: Backburner for the Bluebook?

Welcome to the latest edition of Above the Law’s Grammer Pole of the Weak, a column where we turn questions of legal writing and English grammar and usage over to our readers for discussion and debate.

Last week, we found out that only 29% of our readers lie back and think of England when dealing with punctuation and quotation marks. Makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?

This week, we turn to a hotly-debated issue among legal professionals: the use of the Bluebook. At least one federal judge hates it, joining hundreds upon thousands of law students to date.

Should we consider putting the Bluebook on the backburner in our legal writing?

The federal judge who can’t stand Bluebooking is Judge Richard Posner. We told you about this back in January, but today we’re going to get a little more in-depth with his vitriol. Elie once said that the Bluebook was “[t]he only book in the world [he’d] actually consider burning in public,” but Posner hates the Bluebook even more.

In fact, Posner hates the Bluebook so much that he wrote a 12-page screed about it that was published in the Yale Law Journal. This served a follow-up to his 1986 article in the University of Chicago Law Review entitled “Goodbye to the Bluebook.” This makes Posner the big bad granddaddy of all Bluebook-haters, because he’s ragged on the Bluebook for 25 years.

Law students, you think you hate Bluebooking? This man has hated it for longer than some of you have been alive.

Of the absurdity of the Bluebook, Posner writes:

I am not alone in these criticisms; much of the vast literature of commentary on The Bluebook is critical. But there is not much root-and-branch criticism.Most critics accept the basic premises of The Bluebook, fuss over details, and don’t worry that “bluebooking” involves an expenditure of time that would be better devoted to legal education or practice. I want my law clerks to spend their time doing legal research and analysis rather than obsessing over citation form.

So, what is the alternative to the Bluebook? Some suggest using the ALWD Citation Manual. From the Association of Legal Writing Directors, the ALWD Citation Manual touts itself as “a consistent, flexible, and relatively easy to understand and use professional system of citation for legal materials.”

The last commenter in our post about Posner’s Bluebook benchslap noted:

It’s been adopted by some or all programs in a good many law schools, but, as it comes from a non-prestige school — even though one in the Top 100 and well-known for its writing and trial practice programs — it doesn’t have the market power of the Bluebook.

Speaking as someone who had to learn ALWD during her 1L Legal Research and Writing class, and then unlearn it a few months later for law review in favor of the Bluebook, I can say with certainty that ALWD was easier to master. But then again, it probably wouldn’t have been so bad to learn how to Bluebook if I didn’t have to first scrub ALWD out of my brain.

What do you think, readers? Should we abolish the use of the Bluebook and go with something that’s easier to understand? Or should we continue to slave under the Bluebook’s rules because of its prestige?

Let us know in our poll:

Should we abolish use of the Bluebook as Judge Posner suggests?

  • Yes, ALWD all the way! (51%, 387 Votes)
  • No, the Bluebook is king! (49%, 375 Votes)

Total Voters: 762

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The Bluebook Blues [Yale Law Journal]
Goodbye to the Bluebook [University of Chicago Law Review]
Richard Posner on the Bluebook [The Volokh Conspiracy]
ALWD Citation Manual Resources [ALWD]

Earlier: Prior Grammer Poles of the Weak
Quote of the Day: Judge Posner Benchslaps the Bluebook

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