Civil Litigation Legal Topics

How To Effectively Cite Authority: Tips from a Judge

woman with thumb up because she knows how to cite authority in her motion papersHow you include legal citations in a motion’s supporting memorandum can make the difference between being successfully persuasive and losing credibility.

Here is citation advice from the Honorable W.F. Rylaarsdam, retired Justice of the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District, adapted from an article he wrote for CEB:

Choose authorities strategically. The principle of “the more the merrier” doesn’t apply to the citation to authorities. Select your authorities carefully. If there’s one reported decision that clearly applies to the facts of your case, cite it; don’t bury it among six other citations. The judge may very well wish to read that case, but he or she will rarely have the time to read through a long list of cases to find the one that really matters. Similarly, long quotations are rarely useful and they detract from the flow of your argument.

Connect your facts to the law. Well-drafted memos interweave the facts of the case with the applicable law. Don’t just state an abstract proposition of law followed by citations; rather, explain how the facts of your case require that the precedent be followed or rejected. When you’ve found a case that compels a conclusion in your favor, describe what it stands for. In many instances it’s useful to include a brief summary of the factual context in which the case arose. If you need to distinguish a case, be specific in describing the factual differences between the reported case and yours. But never overstate the significance of a case or use a quotation from a case out of context—that’s an easy way to lose credibility with the judge.

Put citations in the body of your memo, not in footnotes. Few judges appreciate the practice of placing citations to authorities in footnotes rather than in the body of the memo. Such organization may make it easier for those not trained in the law to follow the arguments, but most judges and lawyers are so used to the traditional format that they find footnotes distracting. It diverts the judge’s attention from the thrust of your argument if he or she has to move between the well-constructed flow of the thoughts contained in the body of your argument and the footnotes.

Clearly stating your legal argument is paramount for any persuasive memo, but don’t forget to put some attention on the format and non-substantive aspects of memo writing.  Get guidance on all aspects of preparing a supporting memorandum in CEB’s California Civil Procedure Before Trial §§12.44-12.58.

Other CEBblog™ blog posts you may find useful:

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