Living with the Bluebook: Three essential rules

Griffin Albaugh

As I discussed last year, while the Bluebook is, at its core, an Eldritch Abomination, there are certain tips and tricks we can use to turn the humble “Uniform System of Citation®” into something you can understand and appreciate. To build on that knowledge, I give you the Bluebook rules that every law student should know, regardless of whether they are looking to get a passing grade on their memo, write-on to a publication, or win the Billy Van Devanter Award for Best Junior Citer at the 2022 Bluebook World Championship. 

#1: Rule 18.6 – Films, Broadcasts and Noncommercial Video Materials Available Online

I must admit, my own experiences have likely colored my sense of which rules are important. Last summer, a senior partner at my firm requested that I get him the Bluebook citation for the world-famous episode of The Colgate Comedy Hour where Paul Bufano and Roy Donk performed a brass rendition of The Cisco Kid theme song. For hours, I toiled away trying to find the original broadcast information for the episode, and while I eventually found the citation, I disappointed myself and the partner with how long I took.

See, I believed, pursuant to the first paragraph of Rule 18.6, that failing to cite the original broadcast would render my citation incorrect and dishonor me for decades to come. Unbeknownst to me, however, Rule 18.6 includes the caveat that when films, broadcasts, or noncommercial video materials are available online, we can instead ignore the original broadcast and cite under Rule 18.2.2 to the web source.

Had I known this, I simply could have gone straight to YouTube, cited the web version of that fateful episode of The Colgate Comedy Hour, and still had the time to listen to the dulcet tones of Roy Donk’s flügelhorn before I submitted my assignment. 

#2: Rule 15.8(c)(iv) – Shakespeare

It should come as no surprise that the works of William Shakespeare have their own special citation style in the Bluebook. After all, the words and wisdom of his plays are a fixture of Modern American Jurisprudence (I still read Learned Hand’s Second Circuit opinion in A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States monthly to revisit his use of Mercutio’s death in Romeo and Juliet as an allegory for Congressional encroachment upon state police powers). Familiarity with these works is inextricably linked to success in our profession, so we must also be familiar with how to cite them.

For an example of a proper Shakespearean citation, let’s look to Sir Andrew Aguecheek’s famous line from Twelfth Night—”I am a great eater of beef and I believe that does harm to my wit.” Pursuant to Rule 15.8(c)(iv), we must cite in large and small caps the former of which is used for Shakespeare’s name and the specific play, and the latter of which is used to cite for the act, scene, and line. As such, the proper citation for the aforementioned quote is: William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, act 1, sc. 3, l. 43. 

As an aside, it’s important to note that the Bluebook does not specify any particular rules for citation of non-Shakespearean plays. Though academics are split on why this is, I am of the mind that it’s because the individuals responsible for the Bluebook forewent learning about new forms of creative expression following their satisfactory completion of ninth-grade language arts (see generally Orin S. Kerr, A Theory of Law, 16 Green Bag 2d 111 (2012).

#3: Rule 20.2.4(b)(i) – Chinese Language Romanization

As many of us have likely noticed, Sino-American relations have been somewhat strained recently. That is all the more reason to ensure that we are familiar with how to properly convert hanzi (Chinese characters) into Roman script. Though you all likely spent a good chunk of time during your first few weeks of Lawyering Skills mastering the rules governing romanization, the sociopolitical stakes of an erroneous conversion warrant a deeper dive.

Though adherence to Rule 20.2.4(b)(i) may seem daunting at a glance, I’ve built a step-by-step guide to ensure that you do not run afoul of this essential rule:

  • Begin by dusting off your favorite Pinyin romanization guide
  • Triple check that your romanization guide adheres to the international standard, Hanyu Pinyin Fang’an
  • Use your romanization guide to convert the Chinese language citation into Roman script
  • Remove any and all tone marks, as they are unfamiliar and scary
  • Do not use the Roman character “v” as a substitution for the pinyin “ü”
  • Following romanization, ensure that the “d” in “de” is lower-case, provided that the “de” is possessive
  • Alter any word divisions that do not comply with the examples provided in Rule 20.2.4(b)(i)
  • When applicable, in hanzi, insert the author’s name, the material’s title, and the case name within parentheses
  • Ensure that the completed citation complies with the Bluebook’s rules governing information inclusion and order

By following these simple steps, you can avoid befalling the same fate as an attorney from Beaver County, Pennsylvania, whose disastrous attempt at romanizing “背靠背脸对脸” (the beloved Chinese film Back to Back, Face to Face) caused him to lose his chance at becoming a state judge. While the Kansas legislature may not have as much of a passion for proper bluebooking as Pennsylvania’s, make no mistake – knowing these rules is imperative.

-By Griffin Albaugh, a 3L from Lawrence and a KU Law Student Ambassador