Muskrat News Legal Briefs


The Bluebook* of Happiness


A few thoughts on bluebooking.  First off, what the #@&$%?!?

There are two views of bluebooking.  One is the “Karate Kid” view.  Wax on. Wax off.  Italicize Id.  Differntiate See and See, e.g.  Soon you internalize the motions and the skills, and the next thing you know you’re breaking thick wooden boards with your arguments.  Then it’s on to the Valley Footnote Championship, where you use the Flying Bird Pin Cite to win, despite the weaselly kid’s having kicked you in your week parentheses.  And then you get to sleep with Professor Kingsfield’s daughter.  Yay!

The other view is that bluebooking is the legal equivalent of a woman’s ability to tie a knot in a cherry stem with her tongue.  Nobody actually wants knotted cherry stems, but they see knot-tieing as an indicator of the possession and willingness to deploy other skills.  Nobody really cares about bluebooking, but it’s a signifier of your willingness and ability to work hard and meticulously (or maybe to perform fellatio – firms differ on that one). 

Nonetheless, if you don’t learn it, you’ll never have any friends, the tough kids will beat you up after school, and you’ll be chronically unemployed until your fast-growing ether addiction finally devours your last spark of humanity.  Or you’ll have to work for Legal Aid.  So you have to buckle down and do it. 

There are two basic secrets to easy bluebooking:  The first is, plan ahead.  When bluebooking your own writing only use references that are easy to cite.  Forget dissenting and concurring opinions, shun foreign materials, and never quote a law review article with more than one author.  Stay away from court documents like Appellant’s Answer to Defendant’s Request To Stay Hearing on Motion For Summary Judgment, and never cite state court cases.  You’d be amazed how much easier it is to build a “table of authorities” when you only have Gideon v. Wainwright and the Joint Appendix.

The second key to easy bluebooking applies when checking the work of others.  Authors tend to be a little over-focused, so let’s say you’re editing an article entitled “Bluebooking as Rape: A Feminist Perspective on Cite-Checking.”  And you get to the first footnote, which reads, in its entirety, “1.  Because I said so, and I speak for the disenfranchised against the power of the Man.  If you so much as breathe hard on this footnote I will have you up on sexual harassment charges so fast it will make your average sexual performance look lengthy by comparison.  And stop staring at my breasts.  Pig.”

Obviously, there are some issues there.  Should “Man” be capitalized?  Should “Pig” be marked as a sentence fragment?  But the best way to deal with it is simply put a big old check mark next to it and tell your EIC “This article has made me ashamed to be a heterosexual white male, and a just and caring society would not let me edit the work of this person.”  (If you are not a heterosexual white male, pretend to be one, just like Richard Gere does.)

“But Tom,” you protest, “what if these pathetic dodges don’t work?  What if I have to use a source that’s complicated to cite?”  In that case I strongly suggest you consult the “Excuse Annex” at the back of the Unexpurgated Version of the Bluebook (on sale only at the Malpractice Barn).  There you’ll find techniques such as “blurred printing to cover italicization doubts,” “unreadably small print for the older professor,” and “the untraceable infra-supra maze.” 

If none of those work, in the last resort you may have to actually learn the rules by opening the book.  When you do, please let me know what’s in there.  I’m busy practicing with cherry stems.

*Non-law people:  The Bluebook is a style manual for formatting legal footnotes.  It is lengthy, complicated, opqaue, poorly written and an all-around pain in the ass.



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