The Bluebook Online

Friends, lawyers–did you know that the Bluebook is available online? I confess, I did not until a couple weeks ago.

I needed to research citation formats, but my Bluebook was sadly out of date (think law school). I didn’t want to wait for the copy to arrive by mail, so I bought an online subscription. I was kind of skeptical. After all, half the benefit of the book is all the little tabs and notes that you’ve added over the years. I was impressed by the service though, so I thought I would share.

The Search feature is useful in theory, but maybe not so much in practice. With research guides, it’s usually best to consult the table of contents. But, for the harder to find items, keyword searching could do the trick. You can also search across all of the jurisdictions if you are looking for a particular attribute. Search includes a users’ notes, which is potentially very useful as well.

The table of contents is displayed on the right side-bar, and the pages themselves include “next” and “previous” buttons to scroll through the publication the old fashioned way.

The Search History is another great tool. It mimics the research trail of familiar research services, which is smart.

Annotations allow you to add notes and mark-up your virtual Bluebook. I thought it might be kind of clumsy at first, but I LOVE that I can insert hyperlinks to other sources. For example, I can add in the URL for the Federal or State rule that the Bluebook cites as authority. The ideal scenario would be having the Bluebook fully cross-linked to these external sources, but it’s great to have the space to annotate the virtual guide the same way as the bound version. The online Bluebook also offers an option to provide share annotations across an organization.

Bookmarks take the place of the post-it notes, tabs, and dog ears of your bound versions. What I especially like about this feature is that the bookmarks are customizable; you can name them what you want. Personally, I think this is great because the nomenclature in the Bluebook is kind of vague. Customizing the language helps you understand right away which rules you’re looking at.

One thing that I thought was especially useful is the bookmark folder system. With this, you can create folders for your bookmarks, just like you do in a web browser. I do a ton of research on the Internet, and I rely on folders to organize bookmarks by project or issue.

Cross-linking. The site does cross reference its own internal content, which is very useful. Instead of having to page back and forth to find the rule, you can open it in a new tab without losing your place. As I mentioned before, though, I’d love to see external sources cross-linked as well.

The editors have also included Tips for users. You can see a list of them, and they incorporated into the rules themselves. You don’t need a subscription to read the list.

I’m not sure that the benefits of the online features outweigh the muscle memory “I know that the Table I need is on this tabbed page” advantage of the bound version–it’s probably a personal preference. But if you need a new edition, you might consider going online for it.