LawProse Lesson #333: Double-check your references.

LawProse Lesson #333: Double-check your references.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lawyer filing a brief or a college student turning in a paper: you must double-check your references. That means two things: (1) getting the names and the pages right, and (2) verifying all quotations word for word and letter for letter. If you’ve had to omit a word or a sentence to make the syntax blend nicely with your own prose, as any stylist occasionally must, you must be sure that your ellipsis dots and brackets are properly handled.

            Some lawyers consider this last point beneath them. Why should they worry about whether it’s three ellipsis dots or four, and how they’re spaced? The answer is that you should have assimilated the proper method long ago. You do it as naturally as you breathe.

            If you need a reminder on how to use ellipsis dots—why you never begin a quotation with them, why you never use empty brackets in place of them, why it’s silly to worry that using ellipsis dots will suggest to a judge that you’ve tampered with the substance of a quotation—you have recourse to your home copy of the fourth edition of The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style (2018). Pages 38–42 tell you all you need to know.

            Would a judge really hold it against you if you got these things wrong? Perhaps, yes. You don’t know how to quote a sentence properly, but you expect me to believe you know how to read and analyze a case? I’m doubtful. So is the law clerk. And so is the judge.

            You say you never use ellipses for that very reason? Then you don’t know how to write. But you want me to believe that even though you don’t know how to write, you know how to read and analyze a case? I’m doubtful. So is the law clerk. And so is the judge.

            So there’s no escape.

            Empty brackets? You don’t know where and how to use them? That’s on pages 36–37 of your ever-present companion, The Redbook. Being a careful lawyer, you internalized the proper methods years ago. Didn’t you?

Further reading:
Bryan A. Garner, The Winning Brief 63–66, 390–95 (3d ed. 2014) (“Allow time for a full citation check of both the record and the caselaw.” / “Know how to use brackets and ellipses.”).

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