Providing authoritative support for assertions is a key component of legal writing. We learn to read and apply caselaw throughout our doctrinal classes. And 1L legal writing is dedicated to learning how to Bluebook. This is because the Bluebook provides rules for citing caselaw. But citation is about more than weird capitalization, obscure spacing rules, and periods. Case citations are important and have meaning. The accuracy of Bluebook citations has long been proxy for the substantive quality of a legal brief—now a quantitative study supports that notion.
In a study by Judicata, the company found that where there were small mistakes in Bluebook citations, these briefs were more likely to contain larger, substantive mistakes. In a memorable reference to the the “broken windows” theory of policing, Judicata referred to this as the “broken cites” theory. And building on a study by Casetext, Judicata found that where there were incorrect cites, there was also missing precedent.
So does Bluebooking matter outside of law school? Absolutely.
Fear of the Bluebook hinders understanding
The problem is that law students get intimidated by the Bluebook and get bogged down memorizing 511 pages of rules. This daunting task causes students to lose track of why we cite and how to use cases to provide authoritative support for assertions.
Fortunately, there are inexpensive legal tech tools that will help you present your Bluebook citations properly so that you can focus on developing citation literacy and strongly supporting your arguments. Of course, you should make your best attempt at proper Bluebooking. But you should focus on learning why, and less on memorizing the rules of how.
Automate your Bluebooking
The automated citation generators from even the best electronic research engines still contain errors. If you rely on them, your citations will have presentation mistakes. These errors are difficult to spot when you are still learning the Bluebook rules. Unfortunately, there’s little room for a learning curve in an industry that demands perfection. And now that Bluebook errors have been shown to be a harbinger of other substantive issues, it’s even more important to get your cites right. Here are three options to help you.
PerfectIt with American Legal Style
PerfectIt with American Legal Style is a robust proofreading program. It checks for formatting, spacing, spelling, and capitalization errors in the court and reporter names in Bluebook citations. It also checks for proper treatment of id., supra, and certain signals and subsequent history. It works well for fixing automatically generated citations or for correcting your typed entries.
In addition to Bluebook errors, PerfectIt also checks for legal-specific typos, enforces consistency, and conforms your writing to the guidance found in The Red Book: A Manual On Legal Style by Bryan Garner and Black’s Law Dictionary. It is an MS Word add-in that works on Macs and PCs. PerfectIt runs from the ribbon and guides the reviewer through each one, using familiar spell-check-like functionality and informative commentary. The reviewer can fix each error with a single click. It is available from the Office Store or as an installed program. It is $70 per user per year.
CitePad is a floating keypad application that provides Bluebook citation buttons on your computer screen. It includes keys for commonly-used citation words, phrases, and symbols such as id., see, e.g., and the section symbol. It also allows for toggling easily between the main body of text and footnotes as well as small caps, plain font, and underlined font.
Citepad is most useful when you are keying in your own citations. It integrates with WestlawNext Copy with Reference and Lexis Advance Copy Citation to Clipboard, to allow you to add your signal after pasting in your formatted citation. It does not correct spacing, capitalization, or other errors from the automatically generated cite.
It is an app and works on Macs and PCs with MS Word, WordPerfect, OpenOffice, and Google Docs. It is $14.99 for one computer.
The LegalBoard is similar to CitePad, but it is a physical keyboard. It includes keys for commonly used symbols, legal words like plaintiff and id., and some citations like Ct. App. and S. Ct. Like CitePad, it also allows for toggling easily between the main body of text and footnotes as well as small caps, plain font, and underlined font, and turning track changes on and off. It is also most useful when you are keying in your own citations. The full keyboard is available for PCs only and is $75. The smaller keypad is available for Macs and PCs and is $65.
Bluebooking isn’t a task that magically becomes unimportant after you start at a law firm. On the contrary, getting Bluebooking right and learning it properly means you’ll have a skill that presents your work in the best possible light through the start of your legal career and beyond. Partners look at presentation accuracy and will call you on it, so take your time to understand citations and use the best possible tools to make sure you get things right. It sounds small, but just like a broken window, it can be much more important than it first appears.