Death to Needlessly Prolix Citation Guides – Judge Posner’s Alternative

The latest issue of the Yale Law Journal contains a supremely sane and caustic attack by Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on the tendency of the Blue Book (Uniform System of Citation) to proliferate increasing thickets of rules and increasingly trivial sub-rules.

In an earlier essay, Goodbye to the Bluebook, 53 University of Chicago Law Review 1343 (1986), Judge Posner suggested four principles to guide the design of such a system:

“to spare the writer or editor from having to think about citation form,”

“to economize on space and the reader’s time,”

“to provide information to the reader,” and

“to minimize distraction.

Perhaps the most useful part of the article is its reproduction at pages 854 to 857 of a cogent and effective 885 word memo to his law clerks, originally written by Professor Scott Hemphill (when he clerked for Posner), which presents a simple practical set of principles and a cheat sheet of examples.

And here are links to the original 1926 first edition of the Uniform System of Citation in 26 pages (with large font) – contrast that with the current 511 bloated 19th Edition. And to Ronald Standler’s Legal Research and Citation Style in USA, which I was unaware of until Judge Posner pointed it out.

And a grateful hat-tip to my partner Subrata Bhattacharjee


  1. However widely used as it can be, the Bluebook is not a good model to follow with respect to citation standards. While I think that Canadian standards still need to be simplified, this is nothing compared to how daunting it is to follow Bluebook rules. Some are working to “get past [their] Bluebook anxiety“, but everyone should try to simplify things and adapt the rules to the electronic era.

    On a side note, I came across this sarcastic and funny article written in 1992 by Prof. James D. Gordon after the release of the 15th edition: “Oh No! A New Bluebook!” (90 Mich L Rev 1698, available through subscription in HeinOnline or JSTOR). Citing a warning made by the book’s editors that “Veterans of the Bluebook citation should carefully review this edition for rule modifications”, he added:

    “Veterans” is the appropriate word – battle-scarred, combat-fatigued, wounded-in-action veterans who fight daily in the brutal and expensive citation wars. For these people, the war has just escalated. (p. 1699)