Citations: in text or in footnotes?

Posted: June 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Talking About the Cases | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Put citations in the body of the paper—not in footnotes. Yes, citations are clunky and disruptive. But they are also a substantive part of legal writing because they show the weight and authority of the case you are citing. Therefore, case citations belong in text, where your reader can find them easily.

Some recent opinions follow a trend to move book and page references to footnotes. Although moving book and page information to footnotes may make the paragraph itself more readable, dropping citation information to footnotes violates the essential design principle of proximity because it requires the reader to jump back and forth between footnote and text to piece together the complete citation. Thus, footnotes defeat the goal of keeping the reader’s eyes moving seamlessly through the paper.

So if the case law is important to your paper—and the case law is essential in any research memorandum or any paper that will be filed in court—keep your full citation in prose. Although citations admittedly disrupt the flow of legal writing, it is more disruptive to require the reader to jump between text and footnote.

In business law papers, put cases in footnotes if your colleagues do so. Business law papers routinely drop citations to footnotes because transactional attorneys may be less concerned about the case law than about the structure of the deal. Follow the leader and use the format your colleagues use.

Never use endnotes. Citations should never go at the end of your paper. It’s just too far for the reader to travel.

Expect citation format to change for the better. As we move to a paperless world and our readers grow accustomed to reading briefs and memoranda online, our method of citing cases should change. My book talks about the changes that we should expect to see. . . .

What do you think?