the Irish for rights

Legal Citation

University of Oxford Crest, via the Law Faculty website.The Oxford Standard for Citation Of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA) is fast establishing itself as the UK’s standard system of legal citation. It is at present undergoing revision, and the Editors welcome comments and suggestions by email before the end of the month.

It is important to disclose sources (not least to avoid charges of ), in as complete a fashion as will allow a reader to find the source easily. Systematic citation methods allow for accurate, comprehensive and consistent citation of references such as cases, statutes, books, articles, and so on; and, in the legal context, they will also provide valuable information about a case, such as when it was decided, the level of decision, and so on. There are many possible citation systems, of which Harvard maintains a very useful list of paper-based resources.

Cover of the 18th edition of the Bluebook, via its website.However, one citation system stands out, and this is one situation where you really can judge a book by its cover: the Standard System of American Legal Citation is universally called The Bluebook, because of the colour (or, I suppose, the color) of its cover (pictured right; see its wikipedia page). It was first published in 1926 (pdf); it is now in its eighteenth edition; and Peter Martin’s online Introduction to Basic Legal Citation (Cornell Legal Information Institute) is based on it. I’m not a fan: it is clumsy and overly pedantic, premised as it is on the formalist Langellian conceit that there can be a rule for every possible citation occasion. Worse than that, quite frankly, it simply looks ugly on the page. Hence, though it is the dominant US standard, I’m glad that even there it is not entirely without criticism or competition. In particular, there is the long-standing University of Chicago Manual of Legal Citation, which – maintaining the colo(u)r theme – is called the Maroon Book and on which theUniversity of Chicago Law Review has based its house-style; and the Association of Legal Writing Directors have produced a very accessible Citation Manual.

Outside the US, there are few examples of adoption of these standards. Instead, various jurisdictions have developed their own styles. For example, Australia has the Australian Guide to Legal Citation published by the Melbourne University Law Review Association. And the bilingual English-French Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation (6th ed, Carswell, Toronto, 2006) has been produced by the McGill Law Journal (pdf summary here; html summary here).

However, most of these guides continue to be available in print, and for a price (though The Bluebook is also available online by subscription). On Slaw, Gary Rodrigues has argued that there should be free and open online access to the McGill Guide (an argument which could with profit be applied to the others as well):

A Modest Proposal – The McGill Guide

… Like the Bluebook, the McGill Guide has the potential to provide the “systematic method by which members of the legal profession communicate” to one another in Canada. What is needed to achieve this result? One key element is easy access which could be provided if the McGill Guide was made available to judges, lawyers and law students on all of the online services in the country including CANLII, SOQUIJ, and every commercial legal publisher. … The widespread use of a single style guide will help to ensure that legal citations and references are complete and useful. By making the McGill Guide available virtually everywhere, the likelihood is greater that it will be used by an increasing number of members of the legal profession, especially if its use is reinforced in training programs for judges and lawyers. …

There are some general online citation standards, such as The Columbia Guide to Online Style, some of which have been applied in the legal context (see, in particular, Rodrigues’s Electronic Citations and Case Citators – Collaborative Outsourcing).

Not only does OSCOLA provide an elegant, coherent and consistent system of citation, but its great benefit is that is openly, fully and freely available online. There is as yet no standard Irish system of legal citation – what might, perhaps, be called a Green Book – though the style guide used by Round Hall publishers may provide a potential starting point. As a consequence, OSCOLA is what I recommend to anyone who is desperate enough to ask for my advice about citation style. It is an excellent venture, well worth supporting. Check it out; and if you have any comments about it, get them to the editors before the end of the month!

11 Responses to “Legal Citation”

  1. Thomas Bruce says:

    I’m surprised at the absence of any mention of vendor- and media-neutral citation schemes of the sort proposed by AALL and others (and admittedly adopted in, shall we say, a desultory fashion).

  2. Eoin says:

    Thanks for the comment, Thomas. Yes, I entirely agree that I should have given vendor- and media-neutral citation schemes a strong and positive mention. However, in my defence, you will see that OSCOLA incorporates the BAILII/AustLII (etc) system for cases etc. So it’s there by implication, if not directly.

  3. I agree with Eoin’s comments re OSCOLA; it is by far the most elegant citation system I have ever used. Our Law School has, in fact, adopted it as the standard: http://www.i-cite.bham.ac.uk/Footnotes.shtml.

    I have no criticisms of OSCOLA itself, but there are a few glitches in their Endnote style (or at least, the formatting conflicts with the OSCOLA guide.)

    If I was pushed, perhaps the only suggestion I would have for OSCOLA 2009 is to drop ‘ibid.’ I’m not sure that it makes sense to keep one Latin gadget but forbid all of the others.

  4. TJ says:

    I have just one complaint in respect of OSCOLA: as of yet there is no corresponding style for Zotero, leaving EndNote as the only option.

  5. […] styles, rather than being confined to a specific legal field or theoretical approach. And, in an excellent development which will surely come to be seen as a some kind of apostasy, it has eschewed the […]

  6. […] And, by way of light relief, Courtoons hilariously updates Legal Citation. […]

  7. […] Updating Legal citation: […]

  8. […] aside their citation styles, there may be a third problem with law reviews: their paper format. The Durham Statement on […]

  9. […] way of update to my post on Legal Citation, I note that Geoff McLay on 15 Lambton Quay (the Faculty Blog for the Victoria University of […]

  10. […] Precedent: The new rules of law and style. Instead – following on from my posts about OSCOLA (here), the infamous Bluebook (here), minimalist styles for online journals (here), and an emerging Kiwi […]

  11. […] say that submissions should conform to the benighted Bluebook style. This is a very great mistake. Whilst almost (but not quite) ubiquitous in the US, it has gained little traction elsewhere, […]

Leave a Reply



Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I’m Eoin O’Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie – the Irish for rights.

“Cearta” really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

Academic links


  • RSS Feed
  • RSS Feed
  • Subscribe via Email
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

Archives by month

Categories by topic

My recent tweets

Blogroll (or, really, a non-blogroll)

What I'd like for here is a simple widget that takes the list of feeds from my existing RSS reader and displays it here as a blogroll. Nothing fancy. I'd love a recommendation, if you have one.

I had built a blogroll here on my Google Reader RSS subscriptions. Google Reader produced a line of html for each RSS subscription category, each of which I pasted here. So I had a list of my subscriptions as my blogroll, organised by category, which updated whenever I edited Google Reader. Easy peasy. However, with the sad and unnecessary demise of that product, so also went this blogroll. Please take a moment to mourn Google Reader. If there's an RSS reader which provides a line of html for the list of subscriptions, or for each RSS subscription category as Google Reader did, I'd happily use that. So, as I've already begged, I'd love a recommendation, if you have one.

Meanwhile, please bear with me until I find a new RSS+Blogroll solution




Creative Commons License

This blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. I am happy for you to reuse and adapt my content, provided that you attribute it to me, and do not use it commercially. Thanks. Eoin

Credit where it’s due

The image in the banner above is a detail from a photograph of the front of Trinity College Dublin night taken by Melanie May.

Others whose technical advice and help have proven invaluable in keeping this show on the road include Dermot Frost, Karlin Lillington, Daithí Mac Síthigh, and Antoin Ó Lachtnáin.

Thanks to Blacknight for hosting.