Friday, February 22, 2013

Citeus Legalus

The Lazy Person's Guide to Legal Citations: Citeus Legalus

Are you a lazy law student when it comes to Bluebook citations? Citeus Legalus claims it can solve your problems!  This website calls itself "The Legal Citation Generator for Lazy Law Students."  You fill in the information and it generates a Bluebook citation. 

Created by a Cornell law student "[b]ecause there is absolutely no justification for the current Bluebook as it exists today" and because "[l]aw students have much better things to do than obsess over arbitrary abbreviations, rules, parenthetical orderings, and the like" it appears to be the answer to prayers of law students everywhere, but is it?


How it works:
1. You select the category of the material you are citing. Your choices include: Cases; Periodicals; Books, Reports, & Nonperiodicals; Statutes & Administrative Regulations; Legislative Materials; Administrative Materials; or Constitutions.  Every category has a "Manual Entry" option and a few have upload options for endnotes.  The "Books…" category even allows you to search for the book through Google Books and will then auto-populate the information into the form once you select the correct book.

2. You then populate all applicable fields on the form: volume, page, year, party names, authors, parentheticals, web sources, editions, series information, and so on.

3. Press "Submit."  You will have a citation and the option of saving it into your "Cite Briefcase."  If you have several citations for one paper, you can save them all in the briefcase and then download your citations in Microsoft Word format when you are finished. This would allow you to easily cut and paste the citations into your paper.

Does it work well?
I took a recent Harvard Law Review article (assumed to be authoritative) and put the citations into Citeus Legalus to compare the results.  Overall, it was fairly accurate, though incredibly time-consuming.  Every detail had to be manually placed into the correct field in the citation generator in order to get an accurate result.  I only found a few discrepancies in a couple of abbreviations of journals and a few in other details like page numbers. 

What it doesn't include:
The citation generator doesn't include the ability to add signals or short cites, id., supra, etc. It is also limited by the main categories on the homepage, so, for example, it doesn't include the ability to generate a citation specifically for a website or any international materials.

Perhaps the biggest potential problem is that Citeus Legalus generates citations based on whatever the user inputs, even if that information is incorrect or implausible.  This means that the user must know where to find the volume number and date in order to get the correct citation.   The user also must know what information to include and what to exclude from the form.  For example, when creating a citation for a normal legal periodical, you must ignore the "Periodical Special Edition Title" on the first page, but must click on the second tab in order to add the starting page of the article, which is not intuitive from the design of the page.

This website is great for checking on a confusing citation or learning how to do a basic citation (especially in an unfamiliar jurisdiction), ordering parentheticals, abbreviating words and case names, and choosing the correct font (italics or small caps). It performed strongest in the administrative materials, legislative materials, and cases sections. The interplay with Google Books was also a nice feature (so long as the information from Google is correct).

This website is not great for someone trying to avoid the Bluebook or without a basic knowledge of how to cite legal materials. In order to use Citeus Legalus accurately, you will have to know what to add to the form and what doesn't need to be there.  You will also always have to have a degree of skepticism to ensure you are still citing correctly.

So is this great for lazy law students? Not exactly (and definitely not for the laziest of law students who never learned the Bluebook basics), but it is a helpful tool in both learning how to cite and double-checking specific citations.

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