Skipping Stones

You should avoid block quoting rules in your motions and briefs. Any lawyer or law student can block quote authority; it takes no talent. By including lengthy quotations in your writing, you imply that you were too lazy to paraphrase the quoted material—or, worse, that you did not understand it. Judge Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit admits that he does not even read block quotations. In his article, The Wrong Stuff, Judge Kozinski sarcastically said: “Whenever I see a block quote I figure the lawyer had to go to the bathroom and forgot to turn off the merge/store function on his computer.”

The skillful legal writer does not mindlessly block quote authority. Rather, the skillful advocate recognizes the two effective ways to quote authority. The applicable method depends on the needs of the reader.

For instance, when a judge needs to see the exact language from a statute or binding case and the quoted language will be more than one sentence, the skillful advocate distills the meaning of the authority before quoting it. Indeed, you maximize the likelihood that a judge will adopt your interpretation of a statute or case if you interpret the authority in plain English and explain exactly how it applies to your client’s situation. To illustrate, before quoting a statutory provision on recoverable damages, you could state: “Plaintiff has no evidence that the company’s conduct caused Plaintiff to suffer out-of-pocket expenses—the only monetary relief authorized by the applicable statute.” After your favorable interpretation, you should quote the statutory provision. The result is simple: your judge will immediately grasp the relevance of the quoted language and will be inclined to agree with your interpretation even before the judge reaches the quoted material.

Many times, however, a judge does not need or want a lengthy quote from authority (e.g., rules likely to be undisputed). In those situations, you should quote only the key terms of the statute or case that are relevant to your situation; you should paraphrase the rest. Review the four examples below. Which examples are easy to grasp the rules in just one reading?

Example 1: “One who intentionally and improperly interferes with the performance of a contract (except a contract to marry) between another and a third person by inducing or otherwise causing the third person not to perform the contract, is subject to liability to the other for the pecuniary loss resulting to the other from the failure of the third person to perform the contract.”

Example 2: “The long-standing rule in Texas provides for employment at will, terminable at any time by either party, with or without cause, absent an express agreement to the contrary.”

Example 3: Tortious interference occurs when (1) an actor “intentionally and improperly” induces the breach of a contract between a plaintiff and third party, and (2) the actor’s conduct damages the plaintiff.

Example 4: Absent a contrary agreement, employment may be terminated “with or without cause.”

I am willing to bet (even though I’m not a betting man) that you selected Examples 3 and 4—the ones without full quotations.

If you are still set on using block quotations, review the excerpt below. It is from a real appellate brief filed in a real appellate court.

legal writing example - block quotes

Did you read all those block quotations? Did you understand how the rules applied to the facts? You probably did not.

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