When lawyers present legal arguments and judges write opinions they cite authority. They support their arguments as to what the law is and how it applies to the facts of the case with references to the statutes, regulations, and prior appellate decisions because they believe they are pertinent and support their argument. They may also refer to persuasive secondary authority such as treatises, restatements, and journal articles. Lawyers must master the form of "legal citation".
Courts may require a particular form of citing authority. A firm may follow its own format for citing authority. During the course of your law school career, the blue book is the authoritative format. It is a fact of life.
A legal citation follows a standard format which allows a lawyer to refer to legal authority so that other lawyers or judges can locate the document. It involves abbreviations which almost amount to a form of code. A legal citation seeks to identify the document and provide information so that the document can be located.
Basically, a citation is trying to answer four questions: Who, What, Where, When
Who? Who is the author of the information? A court? A legislature? A law student?
What? What is the thing cited: a case, a statute, a law review article?
Where? Where can the reader go to find the information: book, law review, government document, Web -- URL?
When? When was the information published or posted or come into being? Usually the date is given as a year.
If a lawyer files a document with a court and that document contains bluebooking errors that are sufficiently egregious, the lawyer can be sanctioned. In Hurlbert v. Gordon, 824 P.2d 1238, 1245 (Wash.App. 1992), the authors of a 95-page brief were sanctioned $750.00 for various citation problems.
The Bluebook is divided into three parts. It is important to understand that the Bluebook is presenting you with two different styles of citation; that used for most legal documents and that used for law reviews. To further complicate matters, the examples given are for law reviews.
The first part is the Bluepages, a how-to guide for basic legal citation…the Bluepages provide easy-to-comprehend guidance for the everyday citation needs of first-year law students, summer associates, law clerks, practicing lawyers, and other legal professionals. The examples used throughout the Bluepages are printed using simple typeface conventions common in the legal profession.
The second part is the heart of the Bluebook system of citation: the rules of citation and style. These are the rules which apply to law reviews. This part is subdivided into different sections. The first section, consisting of rules 1 through 9, establishes general standards of citation and style for use in all forms of legal writing. The second section, consisting of rules 10 through 17, presents rules for citation of specific kinds of authority such as cases, statutes, books, periodicals, and foreign and international materials. Rule 18 contains rules for citing authorities in an electronic format. Rule 19 contains rules relating to certain subject areas. And Rules 20 and 21 apply to foreign and international materials.
The third part consists of a series of tables to be used in conjunction with the rules. The tables show, among other things, which authority to cite and how to abbreviate properly. Individual tables are referenced throughout the book.
Inside the front and rear cover are ‘Quick Reference Guides.’ The Quick Reference Guide in the inside front cover is for law reviews. The Quick Reference Guide inside the back cover is for normal practice.
Finally, there is a comprehensive index. Sometimes, the best index to the Bluebook is Google. Try it. Search: How to cite encyclopedias Bluebook. Remember that when you use Google, you must always verify the information. Also, many people have written articles or guides on how to bluebook. Quite often, they are clearer and easier to understand than the Bluebook itself.