Does Bluebooking Still Matter After Law School?
15 April, 2019
By Ivy B. Grey
Bluebooking is a menial task and a law school hazing ritual that has no bearing on actual law practice, right? Wrong. Citing is more than just an exercise in irrational obedience.
As Cornell University Law School's (CULS) Legal Information Institute states, accurate and properly formatted Bluebook citations matter in the real world because sloppy errors diminish your credibility as a lawyer. Moreover, there’s also a second more substantive reason: Bluebook citation errors are a harbinger of larger, more substantive errors. And studies have proven that where errors are plentiful, the parties are more likely to lose in court. Taken together, it’s no wonder people simultaneously obsess about—and fear—the Bluebook.
Fear of the Bluebook Hinders Understanding
The problem is that in law school most of us focused on memorizing 560 pages of seemingly-arbitrary rules. We spent our first year of law school urgently addressing how to cite, rather than learning what to cite. And our frustration grew as we saw each citation as an obstacle between the reader and the text. As a result, most of us still don’t understand (and can’t apply) the Bluebook rules; and we do a poor job of finding, prioritizing, and presenting the right precedent. Use tools like American Legal Style for PerfectIt to ensure that your writing is error-free. These programs are inexpensive so you can afford to buy them for yourself. Your reputation is worth it.
Automate Bluebook and Other Legal Formatting Right From Microsoft Word
PerfectIt with American Legal Style addresses thousands of errors in citations such as misplaced periods, transposed letters in court and reporter names, incorrect capitalization, and missing or extra spaces in Bluebook citations right from MS Word. For example, now “E.D.T.X.” will be corrected to “E.D. Tex.” and incorrect citations to bankruptcy courts as “Bank.” will be corrected to “Bankr.” It also checks for proper treatment of id., supra, and certain signals and subsequent history. And it can fix errors in automatically generated citations. There’s a free trial available so you can quickly see the difference it makes.
Formatting Errors Matter
Providing authoritative support for assertions is a key component of legal writing. The Bluebook sets forth the style for doing so. What we choose to cite “can communicate the longevity of a particular proposition in a given jurisdiction, the scope and availability of authority in support of a particular legal argument, and the [author’s] understanding of the weight of different authorities.”
According to Professor Alexa Chew, readers need this information so they can assess your arguments. So it’s important for these citations to appear in-line with our text and to be read as part of it. But the prominence of citations in-line means that readers will notice errors in the formatting. This placement elevates the importance of formatting and causes the reader to connect citation presentation with the author’s credibility. This causes a great deal of anxiety, which makes proofreading citations even more taxing.
Small Visible Errors Indicate Big Important Errors
Readers will notice errors in citation formatting. And those errors can be jarring. But citation is about more than weird capitalization, obscure spacing rules, and periods. Case citations are important and have meaning. The accuracy of Bluebook citations has long been proxy for the substantive quality of a legal brief—now a quantitative study supports that notion.
A study by Judicata found that where there were small mistakes in Bluebook citations, these briefs were more likely to contain larger, substantive mistakes. In a memorable reference to the “broken windows” theory of policing, Judicata referred to this as the “broken cites” theory. And building on a study by Casetext, Judicata found that where there were incorrect cites, there was also missing precedent. Judicata also found that the more of these errors contained in briefs, the more likely the parties were to lose.
How Technology Can Help
If the quality of our legal briefs is tarnished by Bluebook errors and research omissions, how can that be improved in terms of both form and substance?
Fortunately, there are legal tech tools that will help you get your work right. To improve substance, three AI-supported tools can help. Clerk by Judicata checks the complete citation for substance, accuracy, and relevance. And CARA by Casetext and EVA by Ross Intelligence are reliable brief analysis tools that will help to check if you’ve missed any precedent.
Once you’re certain that your research is right, you can focus on fixing your formatting. PerfectIt with American Legal Style can help. PerfectIt addresses thousands of errors in citations such as misplaced periods, transposed letters in court and reporter names, incorrect capitalization, and missing or extra spaces in Bluebook citations. For example, now “E.D.T.X.” will be corrected to “E.D. Tex.” and incorrect citations to bankruptcy courts as “Bank.” will be corrected to “Bankr.” It also checks for proper treatment of id., supra, and certain signals and subsequent history. And it can fix errors in automatically generated citations. There’s a free trial available so you can quickly see the difference it makes.
Don’t Take Chances with Your Reputation
Bluebooking isn’t a task that magically becomes unimportant after you finish law school. In fact, research has shown that Bluebooking actually becomes more important. That doesn’t mean it needs to take as much time as it did in law school! Today, legal-specific technology can help you to produce your best-possible work in less time. Even if you’re not ready for AI-supported tools, you can still use PerfectIt to help you with Bluebook formatting. That saves you time on a repetitive and non-billable task. And it helps to protect your reputation by ensuring legal briefs are well-presented in addition to well-thought-out.
Ivy B. Grey is the author of American Legal Style for PerfectIt. It adds polish, reduces frustration, and saves non-billable time. Ms. Grey is also a Senior Attorney at Griffin Hamersky LLP. She's been named as a Rising Star in the New York Metro Area five years in a row, and her significant representations include In re AMR Corp. (American Airlines), In re Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP, In re Eastman Kodak Company, and In re Nortel Networks Inc.