LawProse Lesson #266: The plague of block quotations
What are the primary hallmarks of lazy, mediocre (or worse) legal writers? Pages filled with citations and block quotations. Today we’ll focus just on the latter. The Bluebook says that any quotation of more than 50 words must be set off in a block. The Chicago Manual of Style suggests that a quotation of 100 words or more (at least six to eight lines of text) should be set off. This standard serves the purpose of not having readers feel as if they’re mired in a quotation from which they’ll never emerge: it shows an end in sight. With double-spaced court papers, it also serves the purpose of condensing, since block quotations are ordinarily single-spaced within double-spaced documents. This point matters much less in an age of word counts as opposed to page counts. But all this is beside the point: legal readers are notorious for the penchant for skipping block quotations. Hence desperate legal writers boldface and underline words and sentences within their block quotes—thereby underscoring their own ineptitude and highlighting their desperation. So what’s the recommendation? Vow to ban all block quotes. Simply quote 40 to 50 words. Then, if you must continue, add: “The court went on to observe that . . . .” And quote again. Just make sure you never exceed 50 words. You’ll find that your paragraphs will become shapelier and your pages more attractive. They might even get read.