LawProse Lesson #273: How to reduce your block quotations (redux)

LawProse Lesson #273: How to reduce your block quotations (redux)

The Bluebook (Rule 5.1(a)(i)) requires that all quotations exceeding 49 words must be set off from the text as “block quotations.” In lawyers’ briefs, these are usually single spaced, unlike the rest of the text. In journals and books, block quotations are commonly set in a smaller typeset. All this is well known, as is the fact that block quotations are thought to be “the bane of many a brief and the affliction of many an appellate judge.” (Ben W. Palmer, Courtroom Strategies 193 (1959)). Because it is also well known that readers skip over block quotations, legal writers are advised to avoid them. The easiest way to do this is simply to end the quotation before the 50th word, provide some connective tissue, and then resume if you must—all the while quoting not one more word than necessary. Often the quoted passage will contain portions that are unduly verbose or irrelevant to your argument. Use these as opportunities to cut down your quotation, replacing irrelevant phrases with ellipses and improving verbose ones by paraphrasing. Oversimple, you say? This technique was used (note the passive voice) in the new book by Judge Neil Gorsuch and twelve coauthors: The Law of Judicial Precedent (2016). Why do I point out the passive voice? Well, shucks. I was the coauthor who did it: reducing the number of block quotations by 95%. It made the text read much better. You can do the same in your legal writing. Next week: Introducing quotations with an effective lead-in. Further reading: The Winning Brief 493–511 (3d ed. 2014). The Elements of Legal Style 85 (2d ed. 2002). Bryan A. Garner et al., The Law of Judicial Precedent (2016). Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges 127–29 (2008).

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