(with apologies to Milan Kundera)
There are of course many inefficiencies in our legal system. An admittedly smaller one — though probably a lot larger than you might think — is also one of the more egregious.
I’m talking about the Bluebook, the bible for legal citations in the United States. The recent 18th edition weighs in at a massive 415 pages. That’s 415 pages of material to tell us how to format citations in legal papers.
Let’s compare and contrast. In the biomedical field, we have “Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals.” Check it out — the requirements are short. In biology and related fields, we have the Vancouver System. And for electrical engineering, there is the IEEE Style Manual. Electrical engineering is complicated stuff — I daresay more complex than most areas of law — but the IEEE Style Manual is only 18 pages long.
Now look — of course it’s important to have some rules as to citation format and style. Otherwise, things could get confusing. But do you really think law needs 415 pages to accomplish that? When’s the last time you ever heard a complaint that one of your citations was formatted incorrectly? I can’t remember the issue ever coming up. Courts have better things to do.
In the meantime, many, many hours are spent learning the Bluebook and complying with it. To what end? If the electrical engineers, biologists, and other scientists can live with short pamphlets regarding citation style, why can’t the lawyers?
Why is the Bluebook so bloated? I’m not sure. It may be because that in the legal field, the Bluebook is published and guarded by various law reviews, who earn income from its publication. There is, therefore, a positive incentive to update it, expand it, and fiddle with it ad nauseum. (18 editions? Really? I don’t think that ideas in the citation format world evolve that quickly. And I say this as someone who helped prepare an earlier version of the Bluebook.) On Amazon, the Second Edition of Citing Medicine (used in the medical field) is only $3.00 for a Kindle edition. Meanwhile, the Bluebook is over $30.
It’s really time for a new and simplified approach.
* Yes, Citing Medicine looks reasonably complicated, but probably less so than the Bluebook.