In August before my 1L year, I went to the campus bookstore to pick up a huge stack of law books for my courses in the fall. I remember flipping through some of these books at the time and feeling a sense of awe at what I would be learning in the next few months. Although I lost my fear of the casebooks after the first few weeks of assigned readings, I stayed pretty scared of the Bluebook until somewhere near the end of the school year. But I didn’t need to be scared of the Bluebook and neither do you. The Bluebook can be a stress-reducing tool that helps answer all of your citation questions. You just need to know how to use it quickly and efficiently:
The first places that you should look for answers to your citation questions are the inside covers at the front and back of the Bluebook. They contain basic examples for citing just about all the documents that you’ll ever need to cite. The inside front cover cites these documents in law review style (for articles, notes, seminar papers, etc.), while the inside back cover uses court style (for briefs, motions, office memoranda, etc.). Yes, we use two different citation styles in the law depending on whether we’re writing in an academic context or in a professional context, but more on this later. One of these covers will answer your most basic questions.Bluepages Table of Contents
Bluepages Table of Contents
If you don’t find an answer to your question on the inside covers, then you’ll need to open up the book. But do not open to a random page. Suppose you have a question about how to cite a case. Proceed directly to the table of contents at the beginning of the book, specifically the portion that’s highlighted in blue at the very beginning of the table of contents, and find the entry for cases (page 10 of the Twentieth Edition). These blue sections at the beginning are appropriately called “the Bluepages” and are a super condensed version of the Bluebook, essentially a “Bluebook for Dummies.” You’ll probably find most of the answers to questions from your 1L legal brief writing assignment here, and this is a perfect place to look since the Bluepages give all citations in court style. Try flipping through the Bluepages section on cases (pages 10–17 of the Twentieth Edition). It’s only seven pages, which is nothing compared to the twenty-four pages cases section (Rule 10) in the full version of the Bluebook.
Back Cover Table of Contents
If the Bluepages don’t have your answer, you’ll need to look at the “Rules” or the full version of the Bluebook. The Rules provide all citations in law review style, so you’ll need to cross reference whatever you find in the Rules with the inside back cover if you’re writing a legal brief. Again, don’t open to a random page. Just flip the Bluebook over and look at the back cover, which contains a basic table of contents. Say you have a question about a case, the back cover tells you to turn to Rule 10 (page 94 of the Twentieth Edition). OK, so now you know generally where you’re looking.
Table of Contents
Now, open up the general table of contents at the beginning of the Bluebook. Go to Rule 10 (for cases), and look at what’s there. You’ve got “basic citation forms,” which is essentially another Bluebook for Dummies. You’d find basic answers there. Then, you have “case names,” which is where you’d look for how to write the name of a case. After that, there’s “reporters and other sources,” “court and jurisdiction,” “date or year,” etc., all of which answer questions about those topics. My guess is, however, that you have a question about a case name since this is often one of the most difficult aspects of legal citations for 1Ls. Case names are Rule 10.2 (pages 96–102 of the Twentieth Edition). You will find your answer to any case name question somewhere in these six pages. That’s doable, right? Notice that these pages are divided into bolded subsections (a, b, c, etc.), so you should skim these headers first before diving into the text. You don’t want to waste your time reading answers to questions that you don’t have, right?
Tables T6 and T10
Now, if you’ve gotten to the end of the case names section, you may have noticed that there are “additional rules for case names in citations” (pages 101–02 of the Twentieth Edition). This section exists because the first part of the case names section actually tells you how to write a case name in a textual sentence. So, if you write about Brown v. Board of Education in a sentence, you’d be writing the case name differently from its citation form. See Brown v. Bd. of Educ. How did I know how to abbreviate the name? This last section tells you to abbreviate common words and geographical terms in case citations according to table T6 and table T10. Put tabs or post its on T6 and T10. You’ll use them all the time. T6 is so widely used that it’s become a verb, as in “Dude, your articles editor hates when you don’t T6 your cases.”
The Other Tables
T6 and T10 are not the only tables in the Bluebook. There are sixteen different tables, most of which you’ll never use. Some that you may use are T1 (which tells you which reporter or compilation to cite to for state cases, statutes, regulations, etc.), T8 (which gives explanatory phrases used to indicate the prior or subsequent history of a case), T12 (which provides abbreviations for the months of the year), and T13 (which contains abbreviations for common law reviews and journals). Additionally, there are many other tables used for international law sources like treaties and foreign cases, but I’ve never had to use these tables. You may if you’re doing international law.
If used wisely, the Bluebook can be a tool to help reduce stress and improve your citation skills. For more targeted help, you should ask a legal writing instructor or a 3L on your journal (or someone else’s journal if you aren’t on one). We’re also always willing to help out.
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