Bluebook Guide

The purpose of this guide is to introduce The Bluebook and basic concepts of legal citation to new law students.

Online Statutes

As discussed previously, The Bluebook requires you to cite statutes currently in force to the official code, if available.  However, this does not necessarily mean the print version. This section of the guide describes the instances in which The Bluebook allows you to cite to the online version of a code in lieu of an official print version.  Additionally, The Bluebook also has rules that govern how to cite statutes on Westlaw, Lexis, and other commercial electronic databases.

Online Only Official Code

Some states publish their official statutes only online.  In this case, Rule 12.5(b), allows you to cite directly to the online source.

It is important to note that just because a state legislature or other state government entity makes state statutes available online, it does not mean the online version is official for the purposes of citation.  Many states publish their statutes online, but expressly state that they are not official (e.g., North Carolina).  

Authentic, Official, or Exact Copies

According to Rule 12.5(b) and Rule 18.2.1(a), you can cite an online version of a code if it is an "authenticated, official, or exact copy" of a print code.  If the online version meets one of these criteria—see Rule 18.2.1(a) for definitions—you cite to the online version as if you were citing the original print source.

For example, the database HeinOnline contains exact copies of the official print version of the United States Code in .pdf, so in accordance with Rule 18.2.1(a)(iii), you can cite to the United States Code on HeinOnline as if you used the official print version.

Important Note: The United States Code Annotated on Westlaw and the United States Code Service on Lexis are not authenticated, official, or exact copies of the print versions.  To cite the U.S.C.A. or the U.S.C.S. online, follow the rule below.

Commercial Electronic Databases

While The Bluebook prefers citations to the current official code, it does provide a format for citing to statutory codes on Westlaw, Lexis, and other commercial electronic databases in Rule 12.5.

The citation is essentially same as it would be for the print version, except the date is different. As discussed previously, when citing statutes in print, the date is the year of the current print code, found either on the spine of the volume, the title page, or the copyright page.  This date indicates which version of a statute you are citing.  This information is, of course, not available in a commercial electronic database. Instead, Rule 12.5 says to provide the "currency of the database as provided by the database itself."   Here are examples of how to cite 17 U.S.C.A. § 107 on Westlaw and 17 U.S.C.S. § 107 on Lexis:

17 U.S.C.A. § 107 (Westlaw through P.L. 115-72)

17 U.S.C.S. § 107 (LEXIS through PL 115-82, approved 11/2/17)

The currency information of a statutory code will be found in different places in each database.  In Westlaw, for example, the currency information is found at the bottom of the screen when you are viewing a specific federal or state statute.  In Lexis, the currency information is found at the top of the screen when you are viewing a specific federal or state statute. 

Important Note: Law students at the Georgetown University Law Center enrolled in Legal Practice: Writing and Analysis or U.S. Legal Research Analysis & Writing should check with their professor to determine whether he or she will require citations to print statutory codes (or online equivalents under Rule 18.2.1(a)) or if citations to statutes in commercial electronic databases will be allowed in the class.