Citation form: getting it right.

Author:Fox, Susan W.

Every lawyer needs to know proper citation form. Sloppy or inaccurate form suggests inattention to detail or ignorance of the correct form. Even so, errors in citation form are rampant is today's legal writing. And not just in lawyers' writing--judicial opinions contain errors, too.

There are several possible reasons for this. The rules have changed since most of us went to law school. Our memory of the forms learned in law school may have faded or become crowded out by more recent information. While some forms may have become second nature to us, others are merely an educated guess unless we look them up every time we use them. Because articles and CLE lectures on the topic are rare, we do not remain as current on this subject as on those that are covered frequently. Some newer forms of citation have developed through the use of the Internet, and rules for citation of those sources are just developing. Bottom line, we all focus on the substance of our writing more than on the form.

This article will explain the proper current forms of citation in Florida and will also clarify some common misunderstandings of the citation rules.

Sources of Citation Rules

Florida lawyers have two main sources of citation forms: The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (16th ed.), published in 1996 by the Harvard Law Review Association, and Rule 9.800, Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure, which sets forth Florida's "Uniform System of Citation." Rule 9.800 applies in all appellate proceedings in Florida; other citations not covered in the rule should follow the Bluebook. "Citations not covered in this rule or in The Bluebook shall be in the form prescribed by the Florida Style Manual published by the Florida State University Law Review, Tallahassee, Fla. 32306." Fla. R. App. P. 9.800 (k).

Purpose of Citation Rules

Florida's citation system was adopted by the Supreme Court of Florida "to standardize appellate practice and ease the burden on the courts." Fla. R. App. P. 9.800 committee's notes. "It is the duty of each litigant and counsel to assist the judicial system by use of these standard forms of citation." Id. Apparently, the court believes that nonstandard forms are a burden and fail to assist courts.

"The basic purpose of a legal citation is to allow the reader to locate a cited source accurately and efficiently." Bluebook at 4. Citation forms are designed to provide the minimum amount of information necessary to lead the reader to the source and to convey key information concerning the source. See id.

A citation consists of three basic parts: an introductory signal; a description of the authority; and an optional parenthetical phrase explaining its relevance. The rules for each of these sections are discussed below.

Introductory Signals--Rule 1.2

In every type of legal writing, the citation of an authority is customary to show support for or contradiction of legal or factual propositions or arguments. The introductory signal tells the reader how the authority relates to your proposition. This is true in appellate briefs, judicial opinions, and even in opinion letters, as well as in scholarly writing.

You may think that it is unnecessary to use introductory signals for simple legal writing. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It is almost never correct to cite an authority without an introductory signal.

There are ten introductory signals: [no signal]; accord; see; see also; cf.; compare ... with ...; but see; but cf.; see generally; and e.g. (when used in combination with other signals). The first five indicate authorities that support a stated proposition. The sixth suggests a useful comparison. The seventh and eighth show contradiction. The ninth indicates helpful background material. The last, "e.g.," indicates the cited authorities are examples. The proper use of signals is addressed in further detail below.

"[No signal]," which is the citation of an authority without an introductory signal, is now used only to identify the source of a quotation in the preceding sentence or to further identify an authority referred to in the text. Thus, except for these two instances, an authority may not be cited without an introductory signal. This is a drastic change from when most of us went to law school; in those days "[no signal]" was common and signified that an authority clearly stated the proposition in the text. The "[no signal]" signal is no longer used to indicate that the case supports the proposition you have just stated. Additionally, the "[no signal]" signal cannot be appropriately used in advance of a string...

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