Law Review Editors: List Their Names (in Citations)

Failing to list all the authors on joint works is often unfair.


The Bluebook is the primary authority for legal citation. Produced by the editors of the law reviews at several top tier schools, the Bluebook is followed assiduously by most law reviews. But just because most law reviews follow it, does not mean the Bluebook is always right.

According to the Bluebook, footnotes should generally not list more than two authors for multi-author works. The relevant rule in the latest edition provides that when a cited work has more than two authors, law reviews should "Use the first author's name followed by 'et al' when saving space is desired and in short form citations. List all the authors' names when particularly relevant."

As David Hoffman notes, this rule creates a default against listing all of the names, and that means many authors of co-authored works who are not listed first do not get credit for their work. This is unfair, and there's no real reason for it.

Later-listed authors are often more junior scholars, who may often be responsible for a greater share of the work on an article, and for whom failure to get credit in cite counts and the like is more consequential. Use of "et al" can mean folks get omitted from citation count studies which are increasingly important in academic rankings and, at some schools, in promotion and retention decisions. For people like me who have tenure and have the benefit of a last name beginning with "A," the Bluebook default rule is no big deal. For junior scholars and those not blessed with early-alphabet names, this can mean not getting credit for their scholarly contributions and influence.

Interestingly enough, the Bluebook did not always endorse an "et al" default for works with more than two authors. In the 1980s, it endorsed listing all authors the first time a work is cited. I am not sure what prompted the change, but I suspect it was concern about word counts and ever-lengthening law review articles.

Fortunately, some law reviews have decided to reject the Bluebook's default rule, adopting an alternative default rule of listing all co-authors. Such law reviews include the Columbia Law Review (which is one of the law reviews that produces the Bluebook) and the Case Western Reserve Law Review. This is a good move, and other law reviews should follow suit.

UPDATE: Back in 2013, Derek Muller had a related post: Was Barack Obama's greatest contribution to legal scholarship the Bluebook?

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  1. A truly ambitious collaborator would change his name to Abraham Aardvark. Better yet, to get ahead of the competition, Abraham Aaaaardvark.

    1. Listing order is a topic of long controversy in academic circles. Many papers have a lead author listed followed in alphabetic order by contributing authors. In some areas, the last position is also a reserved position.

      1. Oh, it’s much better than that. Sometimes, the first author, second author, last author, second to last author, and more are all fought over. Even third author, last from third….

  2. I’m reminded of a (scientific) paper I was tangentially involved with many years ago which had 15 authors. Quite a list for a citation. Though it was very hard to publish, the journal said all qualified peer reviewers were already authors.

    1. Just 15? Not 5,000+ authors as some papers have?

      1. Not that many have 5000. But 2000? yes that is so that everyone gets some ackowledgement of credit. At least the rules of that game are negotiated and agreed to in advance of any publications from the collaboration.

      2. *sigh* I guess I live a sheltered life.

  3. The one cost of our family’s moving from Russia to the U.S. is that the “V” at the start of my last name was the third letter of the Russian alphabet, but the fifth-from-last letter of the Latin alphabet. Back of the bus for me when it comes to coauthored articles ….

    (The linguistic backstory on the different alphabetical placement of the “V” sounds: In the Latin alphabet, the “V” sound was linked to the late-in-the-alphabet “U” [indeed, the “U” sound was written as “V” by the Romans, as in CAIVS IVLIVS CAESAR] but in the Greek alphabet, it was linked to the beta; and the Cyrillic alphabet is based on the Greek.)

  4. Citations counts simply aren’t a good way to measure academic merit. This is highly superficial and should not be used by a person with a working brain.

    But if they one is going to insist on such a measure, software that counts citations can reference the original work, rather than being programmed in a lazy manner.

    As far as credit goes, one can list a publication they are involved in on their CV regardless of how it is cited in law review. The rules for citation ought to only concern what is best for the reader. Which means that et al. should be favored. I am much more interested in the title of a law review article than the authors of it.

    1. “a publication they are involved in”
      your suggestion is designed to encourage inflated claims of actual contributions. Other academics diciplines are beginning to deal with the matter in a way designed to be more fair (especially to junior authors) than previous practice. When it comes to publishing ethics, lawyers seem to be back in the stone age

    2. “Citations counts simply aren’t a good way to measure academic merit.”

      So….what should be instead? It is ONE way to measure academic merit. And ONE way is better than nothing. How should someone quickly and readily assess the relative merit of one, or two, or 20 legal reviews? You could, of course, read them all yourself. That takes a while. And if you need to do the same for 20 or 100 candidates, well….

      This is a long-standing argument in the science fields (how to quantify academic merit), that isn’t necessarily simple.

      1. To measure merit, you actually have to read and understand the work someone has done.

        You have to actually KNOW something.

  5. I used to like to say, when commenting about mergers and such, that you always wanted to be Sears and never wanted to be Roebuck.

  6. “when saving space is desired”
    a poor excuse for shoddy publishing ethics.

  7. Bluebook doesn’t say to use “et al”; it says to use “et al.” with a period after “al” to indicate that it is an abbreviation — for “alia”. However, like Prof. Adler, many seem to ignore that recently.

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