That’s Not “et al.” Folks!

I recently attended the Virtual Symposium on Citation and the Law hosted by the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale Law School and I could not be more fired up about legal citation.  Yeah, you read that right. I am fired up about legal citation!

The symposium was an excellent opportunity for individuals who work in this rapidly changing area to convene and share their ideas.  The papers were not available prior to the conference, as many are still works in progress, but some are available on SSRN (such as this excellent one written by my Director Bonnie Shucha on improving citation metrics accuracy).  As such, my only impressions going into the symposium were based on the catchy titles appearing on the schedule and my own knowledge of current events in legal citation metrics.  However, the panelists did an excellent job of discussing not only the work they are doing in this area, but also why it is so important.

As the Scholarly Communications Librarian at my library, a good chunk of my time is spent thinking about citations: creating citations; typing citations; checking citations…you get the idea.  I enjoy the orderly nature of citations, the necessary organization that goes along with a well-crafted citation.  In my head, they are a system for finding ideas, for improving discoverability on a level playing field.  Play by the rules, and your scholarship is accessible for anyone looking for it, right?  Well, no, actually not right. Not right at all, or I guess you could say, “Not right et al.”

During her presentation, Christine George spoke regarding the need to reform legal citation.  I’ve heard this several times in recent years: the system is archaic and Bluebook rules are arbitrary.  When I heard people in the past speak on this subject, it was mostly in terms of modernizing the system so that OUR faculty are better represented and THEIR ideas are more discoverable.  But Christine framed reform in terms of equality, or more precisely inequality.  To poorly paraphrase George’s argument, our current system of legal citation contributes to and magnifies the problem of less represented voices being lost or overlooked, while amplifying the voices of established scholars, primarily older white men.

Studies have shown that there are both a gender gap and color gap in citations, even in cases where all authors contributed to research and writing equally.  Even in cases where multiple authors are named alphabetically, there is a bias towards crediting the first named author.

One way that librarians contribute towards this bias is through the use of “et al.” I’ve fallen into this trap; in fact, in the past I’ve relished an instance where I can use et al. when adding works to our repository.  Unnecessary Latin lingo that will save me seconds of time? Heck yeah! But alas, heck no.  If we are working to amplify voices and make their scholarship more discoverable, then of course the least we can do is name all authors in citations.  It’s a small way to make a big difference for all authors, not just our institutional ones.

Abandoning et al. in legal citation is known as the Fair Citation Rule and many law reviews are adopting it.  Departure from Bluebook Rule 15.1 has become the policy for many law reviews, as seen in this post from the Washington Law Review, this style guide from the Denver Law Review, or this spreadsheet compiled by Penn Law professor David Hoffman showing the law reviews that have adopted the Fair Citation Rule.  As the liaison to our law reviews, I will be suggesting and encouraging the incoming editorial board to adopt the Fair Citation Rule. 

Most of the systems we rely on for modern legal citation were developed during a different time.  Not just before technology and search engines, but also when legal scholarship was created by a homogeneous group of people.  If we continue to follow the rules created to serve this homogeneous group, then we will be continuing a great disservice to modern scholarship, diverse authors, and the future of legal citation.  So, take the time to type out those names, and remember in the law, we never have to give up Latin lingo in toto.

About lizmanriquez

My love for libraries borders on fanatical and I'm honored to have this space to indulge my interest. I received my B.A. in Economics from DePaul University, my J.D. from Chicago-Kent, and my M.L.I.S. from the University of Washington. Did I mention I love libraries?
This entry was posted in Conference, Current Events, Issues in Law Librarianship, Law Reviews, Legal Ethics, Legal Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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