More on Law Review Citation: The Dreaded Pin Cite
An anonymous former executive editor at a law review writes in a comment to my recent post about pet peeves in law review editing:
As a former Executive Editor on the Law Review, I often found that the toughest part of the editor/author dynamic was the author’s failure to hold up his or her end of the bargain. Admittedly, our strict adherence to the Bluebook was sometimes a source of tension. But it was the author’s failure to do an adequate job citing his work that caused the biggest problems.
Professor Solove, your points are well taken; however, the problem goes beyond overzealous footnote and parenthetical insertion. My journal was a “light editing” journal, so we did our best to add citations only when absolutely necessary, while respecting each author’s style and voice. Unfortunately, my co-editors and I learned quickly that many authors (especially well-established and older authors) think of the journal staff not as citation checkers but as citation generators.
We received pieces that presented excellent view points and strong arguments—but contained almost no pin cites. Not incorrect pin cites. No pin cites. In some of the more egregious cases, we asked the authors to provide them, and the response was always, “That’s your job.” True, it’s our job to verify your assertions, but you can’t just tell us what book to start reading (to borrow another poster’s example). Similarly, in a number of cases, it became clear that (1) a legal assertion required substantive support, (2) the author knew it required support, and (3) the author expected the editorial board to locate the support. Once again, we edit the substance—we don’t produce it.
It is certainly true that many authors are lazy about citation and pawn off too much of the work on law review editors. I try to be very careful about citation, and I frequently spend a ton of time working on citation to my articles — too much time, I believe, since I think that many of the conventions of legal citation are needless busywork. The point of my original post was not about casting blame on anyone. It is about critiquing a set of norms and practices about law review editing that aren’t helpful to readers, are annoying to writers, and are also time-consuming for editors.
Citation is unusually detailed in law review articles. Pin cites, for example, are sometimes helpful. But many times, citing just to the case or article is sufficient. The culture of the Bluebook and law review editing is one of extreme precision. Every statement must have authority, and nearly every citation must contain pinpoint location information. This sometimes can be helpful, but it is often overkill. For example, to use an analogy to physical directions, in many cases, it suffices to say: “It’s in New York City.” In some cases, one might say: “It’s in the Empire State Building in New York City.” But law review citation conventions often want something more: “It’s on the 51st floor of the Empire State Building in New York City in Office #5102, on the desk on the right hand side, the third document from the top of the pile, on page 17.”
The goal of citation should be to help the reader. But law review citation often differs from this goal — it is about justifying every proposition with painstaking accuracy. Sometimes this level of accuracy just isn’t really needed. Sometimes it is. It’s a judgment call.
I believe pin cites are important for direct quotations or for difficult-to-find facts in sources. But they are often unnecessary for many facts or for holdings of cases. What annoys authors is that instead of working on improving the substantive arguments and writing of an article, a ton of time is wasted hunting for pin cites that few readers will care about.
Many other fields use a much less rigid set of citation conventions. Likewise for citation in books. I guess it is no suprise that legal citation is obsessed with rules. But one of the lessons I try to teach in my classes is that sometimes no system of rules can replace good judgment.