BGLJ Says Goodbye to the Bluebook

Press release available for download here: Bluebook Press Release

Statement Regarding the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice’s Citation Practices

Dear Community,

The Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice is excited to announce that we will no longer be using the Bluebook as our citation system. It is the mission of the Journal to publish innovative, intersectional, and rigorous scholarship. The Journal’s Editorial Board has come to the conclusion that, for multiple reasons, the Bluebook impedes our ability to fulfill that mission.

First, the Bluebook presents an enormous and unnecessary barrier to publication in law journals for scholars from other disciplines, young scholars, legal practitioners, and others without access to students and clerks to Bluebook their work. The 20th Edition of the Bluebook is 560 pages long, a Russian doll of rules within rules. It strictly regulates when to use small-caps, when to italicize commas, and how to abbreviate the proper names of over 1000 law journals. Conforming citations to the Bluebook is an immense undertaking, even for attorneys who have presumably been trained to use it. For the non-attorney, reading the hundreds of pages of legal rules and then applying them is daunting. To the extent that the Bluebook citation style privileges the publication of work created by authors of a particular, narrow background or those with access to more resources, adherence to that style is inconsistent with the mandate of the Journal.

Second, conforming to Bluebook citation style requires an investment of editorial time and effort which is wildly disproportionate to the utility of the style. Rules regarding the use of small-caps versus italics, or whether commas are italicized, underlined, or neither, give no substantive guidance to the reader regarding how to locate the particular source or how the source is being used. These stylistic fixes, however, are immensely time-consuming for the editor. Highlighting each comma in an eighty-page article to determine its formatting can easily consume an hour or more. An editor working on an interdisciplinary or cutting-edge piece citing non-traditional sources, such as tweets, podcasts, internet videos, may spend hours of their time looking up the particular obscure formats required. This time could be spent checking for accuracy or, even better, testing the argument and improving its structure. It is the substance of a piece—rather than its use of punctuation—which can introduce innovative ideas and further productive discussion. It is, therefore, our conclusion that the primary responsibility of editors should be working with authors to build the strongest possible version of that substance. It is our opinion that following the Bluebook is an obstacle to fulfilling that responsibility.

Thirdly, the Bluebook citation system is inaccessible to the unfamiliar reader. Any reader not trained in Bluebook citation—which is to say, any reader who has not attended law school—is unlikely to understand a citation to J. Mar. L. & Com (with our apologies to the convenient example of the Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce). Is it a publication? Which one? Instead of immediately understanding the source of the author’s claim, the reader must run a search on the unfamiliar abbreviation before returning to the text. Citation form should aid the reader in tracing the author’s intellectual process, not place unnecessary roadblocks in their way. Focusing on this purpose is particularly important for the Journal because it is central to our mission to promote voices, perspectives, and research subjects which have historically been excluded from legal and academic discourse. We have an obligation to produce a publication which is as accessible as possible to a wide range of readers, including non-lawyers.

In Judge Posner’s memorable words, the Bluebook has become “a monstrous growth, remote from the functional need for legal citation forms, which serves obscure needs of the legal culture and its student subculture.” The Bluebook is difficult to master—1L courses spend a significant amount of time teaching new law students its minutia and many professors employ students specifically to Bluebook their pieces for publication. Moreover, practicing attorneys almost never use the Bluebook, using simplified, court or office-specific citation forms instead. Perhaps the last bastion of the Bluebook, outside of the academic publications that created it, is in federal judicial chambers, but a critique of the Bluebook is emerging from this corner as well as exemplified by Posner’s article The Bluebook Blues.

Uniformity of style is an admirable goal and one for which the Journal will continue to strive. However, we believe that uniformity is not the only goal of citation, and is in fact only a minor one. The most important goal for a system of legal citation is to allow a reader to trace an author’s intellectual process. Clear, accessible, simple, and consistent citations serve this goal. The Journal will be using a seven-page citation guide, borrowing heavily from the system Judge Posner describes in his article and retaining useful elements of the Bluebook. The citation guide will be available on our website. We will revise the articles we publish with this guide, but will continue to accept articles in any (consistent) citation style.

The Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice has a proud tradition of continually interrogating and improving upon received wisdom about what legal scholarship is and how it should be published. We are committed to working toward a better, more equitable Journal, legal community, and world. Given our traditions and commitments, we decline to continue participating in a system that functions as a barrier for non-traditional scholars and non-traditional scholarship, impedes clarity, and refocuses attention from an article’s substance to its form.


Volume 32 Editorial Board

The Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice


You can view BGLJ’s citation guide here: Citation Guide 2016