UT Law Professor Schiess has an excellent discussion going on over at his Legal-Writing Blog regarding the importance of proper citation to persuasive legal writing.

By way of fair disclosure, I am an avowed adherent to the “tyranny of the inconsequential,” as insisting upon correct citation has been labeled by some less fond of the practice.

From my experience writing for and editing law journals and clerking for judges, one must of course first put forth a cogent argument. But if you then decide to let the citations take care of themselves, you detract from the credibility you have established by your reasoning. You may still win if you have the better argument or more favorable facts, but I–for one–prefer not to engender snickering in my legal reader, no matter what the outcome of the underlying case.

My background is anectdotal and the sample size insufficient from which to draw statistically significant conclusions, but in my experience, lawyers (usually older and more of the trial variety) who deride other lawyers (usually younger and more of the post-trial variety) for their insistence upon employing correct citation format do so because they wouldn’t have the faintest clue how to cite something properly if you simultaneously smacked them upside the head with the Bluebook, the Greenbook (flawed though the 11th ed. may be), and the MUS.

Moreover, those lawyers I’ve encountered who would never bother to check a citation tend to have evidenced similar diligence in their reasoning as well. Back once upon a time, when it was my job to read briefs submitted by others, it was a very rare occurrence indeed when a brief that jumped out at me as being offensively lax in its citation was inversely impressive for its thoughtful analysis. The converse was also true: rarely were briefs that shone with impeccable citation burdened by slovenly reasoning.

Accordingly, I don’t view correct citation as a nice cherry to put on top of an otherwise impressive argument, or a useful complement to cogent analysis, but instead as the most basic demonstration of one’s elemental understanding of persuasive writing. This is particularly true here in Texas, where an improper notation of the subsequent history of an intermediate appellate case can directly impact the precedential weight that must be accorded the cited case.

Once you’ve lost credibility through incorrect citation, it’s hard to get it back through unassailable logic.

Thx to the Legal-Writing Blog