From Dan Stone:
- The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, an intricate legal style manual, sometimes called the “Kama Sutra of legal citation,” netted some of the nation’s most-elite, student-led law journals $16.0 million in net profits between 2011 and 2020
- The Ivy League Columbia Law Review, Harvard Law Review, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, and Yale Law Journal hold sole rights to publish the Bluebook, which is required reading for U.S. law students and lawyers
- The law reviews cloak the profits they collect from the enterprise in their public non-profit filings and guard the Bluebook’s intellectual property to maintain profits
- In FY 2020, The Bluebook made $1.2 million in net profits, a third of which went to the Harvard Law Review, which manages the distribution of The Bluebook
- The law reviews collectively hold $40 million in endowment funds, and the Harvard Law Review is known for its comfortable living
A style manual called The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation dominates American legal writing. Nearly every law student must buy a copy and become versed in its intricate rules for references. The pervasion of its standards also compels a large number of legal professionals to own the latest version of the manual.
The Bluebook is published jointly by the Columbia Law Review, Harvard Law Review, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, and Yale Law Journal. A spiral-bound copy of the 21st edition costs $45 and is 365 pages long. There is also a digital version.
Between 2011 and 2020 the Bluebook earned the law reviews that publish it $16.0 million in profits. In FY 2020, the most recent period for which records are available, the Bluebook made $1.2 million.
The current profits of the Bluebook have not been previously reported. While three of the four law reviews are registered non-profits, all of them obscure the Bluebook’s revenues in their mandated federal public filings. More generally, the law reviews refuse to share information about the operation’s profitability. It is as much the seeming obfuscation as the Bluebook’s profits themselves that makes these numbers notable.
The Bluebook is known for the intricacy of its rules, mastery of which is an educational rite of passage. Learning how to write citations is a key facet of legal writing courses. Joining law reviews often involves passing a bluebooking test.
The Bluebook’s rules govern the forms of citations of materials ranging from cases to statutes to Shakespeare plays. They ostensibly serve to make it easy for readers to understand and locate sources, especially because U.S. legal materials are often confusingly labeled. Many courts require that citations conform to the Bluebook’s standards.
A long-running interesting and sometimes amusing critical commentary has surrounded the Bluebook’s near-monopoly on formal legal citation forms and stylistic decisions. Most notably Judge Richard Posner has repeatedly lambasted the Bluebook for being irrationally complex and inconsistent.
In recent years, the efforts of Carl Malamud to make parts of the Bluebook standards public have run afoul of the manual’s publishers. When Malamud posted elements of the Bluebook online and proposed publishing a new digital edition of the Bluebook, he received a letter from the Bluebook’s lawyers cautioning him that moving forward with the project might “imperil the economic viability of the Bluebook” and requesting that he take down what he already posted.
Later Malamud and Christopher Sprigman of NYU Law School received warning letters from the Bluebook’s lawyers, when they attempted to launch a competing free citation guide under the title the Baby Blue’s Manual of Citation, which led to it being renamed the Indigo Book. At issue mainly was the extent to which the word “Blue” was the intellectual property of the law reviews.
Link to the rest at Dan Stone and thanks to C. for the tip.
PG is aware that the OP threatens to fall into the file named Arcane, but it is an interesting copyright issue related to who owns the law and the methods for citing the law.
PG will confirm that The Blue Book is a publication that virtually every law student picks up at some point in his/her/their time in law school. He will also confirm that, especially given its spiral binding, it is likely the most common illegally copied book in law schools.
Although PG attended law school before the ascension of the personal computer and the World-Wide Web, he easily discovered that there are a number of free Blue Book citation generators available online.
Legal citations typically appear in law review articles, briefs filed by attorneys in trial and appellate courts and formal written court opinions.
While The Blue Book tends to dominate the citation world in most (maybe all) US law schools, in some state and federal courts, Blue Book citations are not necessarily or commonly used.
The purpose of a citation is to direct a legally trained reader to the Title, Volume and Page from which a quote, statute or a legal basis for an argument may be found. Undoubtedly, there are some judges that require a citation format that comports with The BlueBook or some other standard, but most judges just want a pointer they understand to what is being cited.
There are also free online citation checkers that claim to check and correct citations. One of the more interesting ones is Citeus Legalus, the Legal Citation Generator for Lazy Law Students.
Here’s a wonderful quote from Citeus Legalus that PG applauds:
Because there is absolutely no justification for the current Bluebook as it exists today. Law students have much better things to do than obsess over arbitrary abbreviations, rules, parenthetical orderings, and the like.
The original goal of the Bluebook; namely, to create a uniform citation system to make writing/reading legal materials easier, was admirable. With that being said, through various revisions and updates, the Bluebook has become a veritable leviathan of unnecessary rules and styling requirements. Today, the Bluebook has spiraled into an absolute mess such that I’m not entirely sure that most (normal) people reading current law journals and reviews actually recognize bad Bluebook formatting or are actually harmed by it. In my opinion, the extreme focus that most law journals and reviews place on memorizing and understanding the Bluebook is indefensible given the fact that good citations do not make good argumentation or good writing.
This website modernizes the legal citation process by automating it. Gone are confusing Bluebook page numbers, rule numbers, and the like. The system deals with that for you. Thus, the original goal of the Bluebook – uniform citations – is preserved while the main side effect of the Bluebook – endless page-flipping headaches – is removed.