Blacklisting the Bluebook

The Yale Law Journal recently published Judge Richard Posner‘s hilariously scathing review of The Bluebook (the standard manual for legal citation forms) in which Posner compares the growth of the book from 26 to 511 pages over nineteen editions as a type of cancer:

The analogy of cancer to The Bluebook’s growth comes quickly to mind, as does the distinction between the multiplication of cancer cells in the organ in which they first appear and their eventual metastasis to other organs. For the growth of The Bluebook has stimulated the creation of supplemental citation and style guides at a number of law reviews….[L]egal citation form has become the subject of a vast academic literature. There is even a 180-page book called Understanding and Mastering The Bluebook.

After suggesting that the publishers of the Bluebook may just be out to make money by multiplying editions, Posner suggests a more interesting reason for The Bluebook’s growth:

The growth in the size and complexity of The Bluebook may also reflect the reflex desire of every profession to convince the laity of the inscrutable rigor of its methods….But unlike the genuinely professional methods used by the modern medical profession to diagnose and treat disease, the core method of the lawyer and the judge is “legal reasoning,” and it lacks scientific rigor; indeed, at its best, it is uncomfortably close to careful reading, to rhetoric, and to common sense. An unconscious awareness of the limitations of legal “science” drives the search for rigor into unlikely places, such as the form of citations, and has given the profession a 511-page book that it does not need.

The only thing I would like to add is that The Bluebook also serves a purpose within the obsessive-compulsive profession itself:  The Bluebook’s endless forms allow us to think that we are getting something difficult done.  In reality, of course, we are just manipulating mindless bits of text on a computer screen (and avoiding the truly difficult bits involving reading, rhetoric, and common sense, as Judge Posner puts it).

Hat tip:  Above the Law.

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