Legal citation: which guide should you use and what is the difference?

Author:Loquasto, Wendy S.

Legal citation: Is it a helpful part of law school curriculum, but forgotten after graduation? If not forgotten, is it an ever-changing morass of technical detail that makes legal writing a pain? More importantly, does anybody care if your citations are perfect? Maybe. Maybe not. I, however, believe that citation is a fundamental skill for lawyers, and just as you need to keep abreast of the evolving substantive law for your practice, you also need to keep pace with the changes in legal citation, particularly for the increasing number of electronic sources that are being cited. This article explains some of the available legal citation guides and helps you determine which will work best for you.

Rule 9.800

All practitioners, trial and appellate, should be aware of Fla. R. App. P. 9.800, which is Florida's Uniform Citation System. Although it is in the appellate rules, Rule 9.800's introductory paragraph states that "[t]his rule applies to all legal documents, including court opinions," so all lawyers and judges should be using it.

The best thing about Rule 9.800 is that in two short pages in a rule book, (1) it provides examples of how to cite the most common legal authorities, such as cases, state, and federal, published and unpublished; statutes; and the Florida Constitution. If you do not have a rules book, then I recommend you visit The Florida Bar's link to the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure, which is always the most current version; print the six pages for Rule 9.800; (2) and keep them within hand's reach for quick reference. For tech-savvy practitioners, bookmark or download the rules to your desktop for easy access in case of an internet outage.

Another plus about Rule 9.800 is that it is not full of a lot of technical rules. The introductory paragraph instructs that legal authorities should be spelled out in full unless they are used as a stand-alone citation, (3) and the rule recognizes a small number of accepted abbreviations that should be used in citations, (4) recommends the use of pinpoint cites (they are not required, but are preferred because they are very helpful to the reader), (5) and directs that case names be underlined or italicized. (6) Other than that, Rule 9.800 refers to The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, or if the proper citation form is not there, to the Florida Style Manual.

What Rule 9.800 lacks is any help with the use of signals, which are critical elements to proper citation; parentheticals, which are extremely helpful to the reader; and short-form citations. It also provides no guidance for citing books, articles, and internet sources or for determining the proper order for citing legal authorities. Hence, the rule's reference to The Bluebook, which covers all that and more.

One thing to watch for with Rule 9.800 are the proposed amendments in the Appellate Court Rules Committee's 2017 triennial report. (7) The proposed amendments include examples for citing cases in their electronic format published by Westlaw and LEXIS and citations to circuit and county court decisions, recommended and final agency orders, and unpublished agency decisions. For those of you who have Bluebook nightmares, the proposed amendments elevate the Florida Style Manual above The Bluebook as the go-to source for citation forms not appearing in the rule. (8) If the Florida Supreme Court approves the amendments (look for an opinion in fall 2017), they will likely take effect on January 1, 2018.

The Bluebook

The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, first published in 1926, was released in its 20th edition in summer 2015. New editions, each with an abundance of changes, some more minutiae and style than substance, are generally published every five years.

Most legal scholars and writing professionals agree that The Bluebook is America's definitive style guide, like it or not. Yes, there are other citation systems, but as legal writing scholar Bryan Garner stated in a recent article, "It appears that The Bluebook is all but impossible to keep up with--and that it will never be '[a]band[oned].'" (9)

The Bluebook contains three major parts: 1) The "Bluepages," first introduced in the 18th edition and considerably overhauled in the 20th edition, (10) are a how-to guide for basic citation; 2) the "Whitepages," spanning 174 pages, are the meat of its citation system and contain the style rules for citing a broader range of sources; and 3) the tables, which are used in conjunction with the rules. For most practitioners, the "Bluepages" are likely all you will ever really need, and at 56 pages in the 20th edition, they are not too long or cumbersome.

Each new edition of The Bluebook is heralded in with a list of the significant rule changes, so you can quickly see what's new. (11) Some law libraries also publish charts and blogs about the changes in the new Bluebook editions. (12) So, as daunting as The Bluebook may be at 560 pages, there is help to locate the changes and keep up to date. Rather than buying the new 20th edition as the spiral bound book for $38.50, The Bluebook Online can be purchased for $36 for an annual subscription, with subsequent annual renewals for $17. (13)

What's great about The Bluebook? The detail...

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