Among lawyers, judges, legal scholars, and law students, few books have inspired as much loathing as the Bluebook, (1) a manual that professes to be a uniform system of legal citation. If you are among the Bluebook's small contingent of fans, I warn you now that I'm not on your team. When I've taught the Bluebook to first-year law students, I've jokingly thrown up my hands and told them there are only two things wrong with the book: the rules and the way they're presented.
Judge Posner enumerated the book's major flaws in his 1986 essay, Goodbye to the Bluebook: "Form is prescribed for the sake of form, not of function; a large structure is built up, all unconsciously, by accretion; the superficial dominates the substantive." (2) He was right about all that. But his prediction of the Bluebook's demise was wrong. Three decades later, the Bluebook is still the standard for lawyers, legal scholars, and law students. That may change--and it should--with the fifth edition of the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation. (3)
Earlier editions of the ALWD Guide carried a slightly different name and a larger purpose. (4) The Association of Legal Writing Directors set out in the first four editions to refine the rules for legal citation in ways that departed from the Bluebook. In particular, ALWD's editors "urged a single and consistent set of rules" for both academic settings and law practice. (5) Darby Dickerson, the author of those editions, also aimed to create a manual that was "easy to use, easy to teach from, and easy to learn from." (6)
But scholarly traditions--including, apparently, those "built up, all unconsciously, by accretion"--have staying power, and even ALWD's members urged the group to respect those traditions. (7) As a result, the new ALWD Guide has been revised and reorganized to take a different approach. The underlying rules are now intended to be identical to those in the Bluebook, and citations produced using the Guide should match Bluebook citations. The author and editors of the Guide have thus conceded the battle over the rules themselves, but they may yet win the war. The choice between the books is no longer a choice between competing sets of rules, but a choice between two books that present the rules in different ways. This is a contest that the AL WD Guide can and should win.
Let me follow that assertion with this: ALWD's strategy of bowing to Bluebook form does not render the Guide superfluous. Consider, for example, that we have one set of rules for English grammar, but no single guide to their use. Scores of such books have been published, and some are far better than others. So it is with legal citation: Leaving aside the relatively few state-specific rules, there is one set of rules for legal citation, and there are now two guides to those rules. And of the two, the AL WD Guide is superior.
As a reference manual, the Bluebook suffers from a deep flaw: Those who use the book most frequently--practicing lawyers and judges--are not its intended audience. In sharp contrast to the ALWD Guide, the Bluebook was created by the student editors of student-run journals for the use of student staff members. As a result, the practitioner rules were tacked on as an afterthought, in a set of "Bluepages" appended to the front of the book. (8) But the Bluepages rules are incomplete, and a user who isn't writing for a law journal must flip back and forth between the Bluepages and the main body of rules to get a citation right.
The ALWD Guide eliminates this dysfunctional approach. Consider, for instance, the primary rules for cases. In the Bluebook, Rule 10 sets out standards for an academic citation to a case, most (but not all) of which apply in non-academic settings. To get a case citation right, academic users need consult only...