If It’s Not Broken…

The new ALWD Guide to Legal Citation, 5th edition, is a significant rewrite of ALWD citation rules. The new ALWD Guide retains ALWD’s  signature style with clear and plentiful examples, excellent visual cues, and plenty of white space. The new manual keeps some of ALWD’s best features: the fast formats and snapshots. ALWD’s style and features mean the ALWD Guide mean is still the best manual for teaching legal citation.

The “new” citation rules aren’t new at all–  ALWD rules now conform to Bluebook rules. The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, written by the editors of the Columbia Law Review, Harvard Law Review, University of Pennsylvania Law Review and Yale Law Journal, is now in its 19th edition, making The Bluebook a standard in legal citation since 1926. The Bluebook had little competition until 2000 when the ALWD Citation Manual emerged and many law schools adopted it to teach citation. Although some of the finer points of citation rules did differ from Bluebook rules, the general formats were very similar. The major distinction between the two systems was that while The Bluebook had two distinct citation formats– one for legal documents and one for academic writing– the ALWD Manual had only one.

Without any competition for 75 years, The Bluebook became the standard and many attorneys believe they have to use The Bluebook even though most courts do not have rules requiring any specific citation manual. Some law schools thought teaching the ALWD Citation Manual put students at a disadvantage since the rules they learned were different than the ones they were told they had to use in practice and they didn’t learn The Bluebook‘s separate system for law review footnotes at all. The new ALWD Guide to Legal Citations eliminates that concern and there may be some efficiencies there that recommend ALWD’s “new” rules. The reality, however, is that students don’t learn all the rules in any citation manual. What they do learn is how to use a citation manual, a skill that is transferable to any citation manual.

But although the new ALWD Guide to Legal Citations may be better than The Bluebook to teach citation, it is no longer a better way to do citation. Just because rules are standard does not mean they are logical. Take, for example, the rule about citing to periodicals that are not listed in the appendix of legal periodicals. The previous ALWD rule was that you formed the abbreviation for the periodical name by abbreviating words in a list of standard ALWD abbreviations. The new rule is that you search the appendix of legal periodicals “for abbreviations for individual words from the periodical’s name. For geographic terms, use abbreviations from Appendix 3(B). Otherwise, spell out the word. Do not use an abbreviation from another appendix, as it may be a word that should not be abbreviated in a periodical name, or it may be abbreviated differently.” Rule 21.2(e). The rule regarding the different citations for consecutively paginated and non-consecutively paginated periodicals is similarly less-than-streamlined. Under the old ALWD rule, for non-consecutively paginated journal you simply put the month or season of the issue in the date parenthetical. Under the new ALWD rule that conforms with The Bluebook, the formats are completely different even though the only difference in the actual publications is whether each issue begins on page 1 or not.

Still, the oddities in individual rules are easy enough to get past– even if a rule does not make sense, you can learn and follow it. The larger problem is a philosophical one: requiring legal practitioners– lawyers and judges– to use a separate system of citation when they want to write for law reviews reflects a bias toward publishing articles by academics. Lawyers and judges have to dig back into the citation manual to cite sources that they cite every day using a different set of rules. Of course, they can do this, but what is the good reason they should have to, besides tradition? What is the purpose of a separate set of rules for academic citation other than to discriminate (meant in non-pejorative sense of the word) between legal documents and academic documents? Especially since the differences in the formats are usually in typeface– they are not substantive differences that convey meaning.

The legal academy is rapidly modernizing legal education. Law schools are developing and adopting practice-based curricula that teach students not just the substance of law but also the practice of law. Law schools are hiring faculty that have previous practice experience. The new ALWD Guide to Legal  Citation– and The Bluebook its rules are based on– are failing to support practical legal education and failing to encourage legal practitioners to engage in the published legal discourse.

I will happily continue to use the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation to teach citation because I believe it is a superior teaching tool. My frustration is that I now have to go back to teaching what I believe are outdated rules. I think the previous edition of ALWD had the formula right.


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