Law School Bluebook Basics

One of the books that all 1L law students are required to purchase is the Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation. This book is a reference guide that, believe it or not, will be just about the only book you take from law school into your practice as a lawyer. The Bluebook’s citation forms are different than you used in your undergraduate papers where professors didn’t really care much about your citation form so long as you were consistent and free of typos.

Law professors, and the law partners or judges you hope to work for one day, care about legal citation; they care a lot. Citation in legal documents is a rigid and important task that legal professionals take very seriously. The Bluebook is so widespread and fundamental to the practice of legal writing that its name has become a verb: “Bluebooking.” You might think this is a bit silly. I mean, who cares about citations? The reality is, however, that as persuasive writers, our job is to direct the reader’s attention through our writing. Anything less than perfect citation form, is going to distract the reader and take away from the goal just like any other typos (like that errant comma in this sentence).

The current edition of the Bluebook (19th) is over 500 pages. It can be cumbersome and confusing to most law students and lawyers. The good news, though, is that most people who create legal documents—including 1L law students—can ignore most of the book. Over 90% of practical legal citation can be handled if you learn 3 of the basic citation forms: Cases, Statutes, and Law Review Articles. And, the beauty is, you don’t even have to learn the full rule to handle the citation. Just remember that you will need to learn the full citation form, and the short citation form for each of these groupings. The full citation form is used the first time you cite to an authority. The short citation form is used the next time you cite to that authority.  The last thing to remember is that citations are treated like separate sentences; they have a period at the end.

Bluebook Citation Form for Cases

The standard citation form for cases (Rule 10) includes the case name, where it can be found, what court issued the opinion, and the year. Here is an example: Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989). The way we read this is: The case Texas versus Johnson can be found in volume 491 of the U.S. Reports at page 397; the case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1989. Here is how it all works:

Case Names:

In every citation the case name is underscored. The names of the parties are separated by a “v.” not “vs.” The words that make up the case name are capitalized, except for conjunctions, articles, and prepositions. The Bluebook has a few tables that you will have to become familiar with. One of them is Table 6, which lists all of the words that should be abbreviated. If one of the words in your case name is on the list, it generally must be abbreviated. You should also note that the case name is followed by a comma, which is not underscored. Here are a few examples:

    S. Pac. Co. v. Jensen,

    Penn Cent. Transp. Co. v. New York City,

    Jackson v. Metro. Edison Co.,

How to Find the Case:

The next part of the citation indicates where the case appears in its reporter. The format includes a volume, the reporter abbreviation, and the page number(s). If you are citing to a specific rule in the case, you should identify the page from where the proposition came. A listing of the official reporters by jurisdiction, and their correct abbreviations, is found in Table 1 of the Bluebook. Here are a few examples:

    S. Pac. Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, 207

    Penn Cent. Transp. Co. v. New York City, 366 N.E.2d 1271

    Jackson v. Metro. Edison Co., 348 F. Supp. 954

What Court Issued the Opinion and When:

The next part of a case citation is to identify the court that issued the opinion and the year. If the reporter is exclusive to a particular court, then you don’t have to list the court in the citation. For example U.S. Supreme Court cases are found in the U.S. Reports. If you see U.S. as the reporter, you know that it is a Supreme Court case. Some states have similar reporters for their supreme courts. The Federal Reporter (F.) and the Federal Supplement (F. Supp.) are the other official federal reporters. The Federal Supplement reports U.S. District Court cases. The Federal Reporter reports U.S. Court of Appeals Cases. To continue our examples:

    S. Pac. Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, 207 (1917).

    Penn Cent. Transp. Co. v. New York City, 366 N.E.2d 1271 (N.Y. 1977).

    Jackson v. Metro. Edison Co., 348 F. Supp. 954 (M.D. Pa. 1972).

If you are citing to a case that has been reviewed by a higher court after it was decided, you must indicate that fact, and what the court did with the case, in your citation (Rule 10.7). All the abbreviations for subsequent history is found in Table 9. Here is an example of a case that was upheld on appeal:

    Jackson v. Metro. Edison Co., 348 F. Supp. 954 (M.D. Pa. 1972) aff’d, 483 F.2d 754 (3rd Cir. 1973), aff’d, 419 U.S. 345 (1974).

Short Forms for Cases:

Once you have used a full citation, you will use a short citation form for all subsequent citations. They come in two forms. The first form is “Id.Id. is used to re-cite to the previous citation. It is always underscored, including the period. It is capitalized at the beginning of a sentence. Use it until you change citations. The second form is the normal short form, it includes either of the parties’ names or both, followed by a pinpoint reporter citation. Here is how it is used:

    Jackson, 348 F. Supp. at 954.  -or-

    Jackson v. Metro. Edison Co., 348 F. Supp. at 954.  -or-

    Metro. Edison Co., 348 F. Supp. at 954. -and-


Bluebook Citation Form for Statutes

The next rule you need to know is Rule 12 for citing to statutes. Statutes are fairly easy. You start with the statute’s name (if it has one), followed by the source of the statute, its’ section number (section is abbreviated with “§”), and year. Table 1 will give you the individual state official statute sources to cite to. For federal law it will generally be the United States Code, abbreviated U.S.C. Here are a few examples:

    Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act,
    42 U.S.C. §§ 9601-9675 (2000).

    28 U.S.C. § 1291 (2010).

    CAL. PROB. CODE § 141 (2009).

Short forms for statutes are a bit more complicated because you have choices for each type of statute. The general rule in deciding between the choices is to choose a form that will not confuse the reader. In general, the short form is going to identify the statute and section only. Id. is allowed to cite to the previous citation. Here are some examples:

    Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act,
    42 U.S.C. § 9601 (2000).  becomes:

    § 9601. -or-

    42 U.S.C. § 9601. -or-

    Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
    § 9601. -or-

    Id. -or-
    Id. § 9620.
    28 U.S.C. § 1291 (2010). becomes:

    28 U.S.C. § 1291. -or-

    § 1291. -or-

    CAL. PROB. CODE § 141 (2009). becomes:

    Prob. Code § 141. -or-

    § 141. -or-


Bluebook Citation Form for Law Review Articles

Law Reviews are the easiest of the three to cite to. The rule covering them is Rule 16. The full citation form starts with the author’s name, an underscored title of the article, the volume of the journal, the name of the journal, the page, and the year. The name of the journal is abbreviated according to Table 13. The words in the title are not abbreviated. Here is an example:

    David Rudovsky, Police Abuse: Can the Violence Be Contained?, 27 Harv.
    C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 465, 500 (1992).

Short forms of law review articles come in two forms: “Id.” and “supra.” Just as you did with cases, use id. when citing to the article for the second time in a row. When you have previously cited the full article, and id. is not appropriate, use supra which means “before.” With supra, you will use the author’s name and the page number that you are citing to. For example:

    Rudovsky, supra, at 500.


Underscore v. Italic

Traditionally, underscoring was simply a way of indicating to the printer that text should be italicized. So long as you are consistent, the Bluebook rules allow you substitute italic type wherever underscoring is used. Choosing between the two is usually a matter of style. Modern legal writers, in general, tend to use italics. While the official position is that it doesn’t matter, your professor or a particular court may require one version over the other. Throughout this article, we have chosen to underscore because it is easier to identify the highlighted text that way. It is difficult to notice an italicized comma, which is almost always a citation mistake. (Yes, they care that much)..