Monday, December 04, 2006

Citation form: a rant

"Mastering the arcana of citation forms . . . is not a productive use of judges' or law clerks' time. The purpose of citations is to assist researchers in identifying and finding the sources; a form of citation that will serve that end is sufficient. In addition, the form of citation should be consistent to avoid the appearance of lack of craftsmanship and care." Judicial Writing Manual 24 (Fed. Jud. Ctr. 1991).

I agree with this quotation entirely. But, sadly, it does not reflect reality. People, especially judicial clerks, will judge you by your citation form, as inconsequential as it may be.

I call it the tyranny of the inconsequential, and here's why:
  • Because citation form is a wrong-or-right matter, without subjectivity, it is easy to use it as standard by which to measure the caliber of a piece of writing. Yet it is a poor standard to use.

  • Because citation form is created by consulting an authority and applying rules, it seems like legal work. Yet the importance of perfecting one's citation form is overrated.

  • Because most lawyers consider themselves nitpickers, mindful of the small details, and strong writers, errors in citation form are unjustifiably magnified in importance.
Exhibit A: Senior attorneys who threaten to withhold an offer from a summer associate because her citation form is poor; in reality she is using ALWD form and the "mistakes" are just different abbreviation forms (Assn. vs. Ass'n).

Exhibit B: Those who believe "law review improved my writing" because it helped them perfect their citation form.

Exhibit C: Anyone who says "if the writer made a mistake in citation form [spacing, abbreviations, italicization], then the writer probably made other, substantive mistakes.

Better Legal Writing
Writing for the Legal Audience

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