Harvard Law (Website) Review: The Bluebook On-Line

BY KATIE MAPES

For years, subciters have been bemoaning the lack of an on-line version of the Bluebook, preferably one into which they could enter a citation and have it pop out perfectly formatted. Now it looks like at least the first part of that has arrived – you still have to format the citations yourself, but the entire book is now on-line (albeit for a fee).

The on-line Bluebook is surprisingly user friendly – much more user friendly than the actual book. Unsurprisingly, this is due almost entirely to the search engine which allows you to search for, say, “executive order” and to immediately call up the correct rule instead of flipping back to the index and hoping you’re looking under the right phrase. Also useful are the hyperlinks that allow you to move swiftly from one rule to another.

It’s also possible to browse the rules, much like you’d browse a statute on Lexis or Westlaw. Unlike Lexis and Westlaw, however, the navigation is fairly intuitive and makes it easy to trace back to where you’ve been (probably because the Bluebook isn’t in the business of charging per page).

There are some other neat features, as well, which show the developers made a point of paying attention to the possibilities of an on-line format. Most importantly, because you have your own sign-in and account, you’re able to create your own annotations that will remain when you next access a rule. (We understand that group subscriptions are a possibility; this could be particularly useful for a journal that wants to note their own standardized formatting rules for its subciters to easily access.) You’re also able to bookmark frequently used rules. Theoretically, you can collect these annotations on your own personalized homepage, as well, although this feature doesn’t seem nearly as intuitive.

There are some problems with the new format as well. The first is that the search function requires some tweaking if it’s to be as useful as, say, a Google powered search can be. A search for “association AND abbreviation,” for instance, brings up a number of pages, and the format in which the searches are delayed means you have to sift through most of them before you find the page that actually lists abbreviations. This, of course, is exacerbated by the oft-disparaged layout of the Bluebook itself, which often seems to group rules, tables, and other information in entirely non-intuitive ways. Since you’re viewing content as it appears in the print version, you’re hampered by its limitations.

An annual subscription to the Bluebook on-line is $25, with annual renewable being $15. This is more than the print version of the book, and the annual renewal fee is irritating when you consider that new editions of the Bluebook come out only every several years. Considering the greater utility of the format, this might be worth the price increase, but just barely (and probably only if you, like me, are someone who finds electronic sources much easier to use than their print equivalent). Apparently, however, law schools and other groups can negotiate with the Bluebook for group access; this, I think, would be a worthwhile project for the law school, particularly given its potential applications for journals and other groups looking to standardize their citation forms. To the Bluebook’s creators, I say: why not develop that algorithm that automatically formats citations for us? That would be worth it’s weight in gold.

Rating: ***

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