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(Cleaned Up)

Last week I attended ICLEF’S Advanced Appellate Practice seminar. It was well-organized and gave me a lot of helpful information to incorporate in my appellate practice. I have been in appellate practice for well over a decade, but I always love learning something new. I hope to share some of that helpful information here on the blog.

Included as part of the materials for the seminar was Jason Steed’s article, “Cleaning Up Quotations in Legal Writing.” In Indiana, appellate judges are primarily reading our briefs electronically. Block quotations, in particular, are difficult to read on a screen. Steed offers several tips for eliminating the clutter of quotations in our legal writing. First, he suggests we avoid using quotations at all. Unless the precise wording is important to the issue being decided, we should simply paraphrase and summarize the text.

But if you must use quotations, try to simplify them as much as possible by removing brackets, quotes-within-quotes, etc. Here is the example Steed uses in the article, which I have seen (and done) often in appellate briefs. Let’s say I want to use this passage from a Fifth Circuit case in my brief:

We have clarified that “[w]hile a PSR generally bears sufficient indicia of reliability, ‘[b]ald, conclusory statements do not acquire the patina of reliability by mere inclusion in the  PSR.”’ United States v. Narviz-Guerra, 148 F.3d 530, 537 (5th Cir. 1998) (second alteration in original) (citation omitted) (quoting United States v. Elwood, 999 F.2d 814, 817-18 (5th Cir. 1993)).

Normally, I would use the following:

The Fifth Circuit “ha[s] clarified that ‘[w]hile a PSR generally bears sufficient indicia of reliability, “[b]ald, conclusory statements do not acquire the patina of reliability by mere inclusion in the PSR.”‘” United States v. Rico, 864 F.3d 381, 385 (5th Cir. 2017) (second and third alterations in original) (citations omitted) (quoting United States v. Narviz-Guerra, 148 F.3d 530, 537 (5th Cir. 1998) (third alteration in original) (quoting United States v. Elwood, 999 F.2d 814, 817-18 (5th Cir. 1993))).

The problem is that the quote gets lost in the citation, and I just want to skip over it all when I read it.

Steed suggests the following. First, we can remove the alteration archaeology by accepting the court’s various alterations and removing the brackets altogether. We still have to bracket our own changes, however. But we can eliminate our bracket also by simply starting our quote later. So our revision would look like this:

The Fifth Circuit has clarified that “while a PSR generally bears sufficient indicia of reliability, bald, conclusory statements do not acquire the patina of reliability by mere inclusion in the PSR.” United States v. Rico, 864 F.3d 381, 385 (5th Cir. 2017) (internal citations, alterations, and quotation marks omitted).

Much better, but Steed goes even further. Here is what he proposes:

The Fifth Circuit has clarified that “while a PSR generally bears sufficient indicia of reliability, bald, conclusory statements do not acquire the patina of reliability by mere inclusion in the PSR.” United States v. Rico, 864 F.3d 381, 385 (5th Cir. 2017) (cleaned up).

Steed acknowledges you won’t find “(cleaned up)” anywhere in the Bluebook, but he explains that the citation tool has been used on dozens of occasions all over the country by both lawyers and judges. It has been given the stamp of approval by Bryan Garner. And, perhaps most compelling, it reduced the size of our passage from 79 words to just 44 words. We appellate lawyers know all too well how important word count can be to us 🙂 I plan on using this citation tool at the next opportunity in my legal writing.

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