You’re not writing a treatise, a law review article, or a comperehensive Corpus Juris annotation. You’re trying to persuade one court in one jurisdiction. And what you’re trying to persuade it of is not your (or you junior associate’s) skill and tenacity at legal research. You will win no points, therefore, for digging out and including in your brief every relevant case. On the contrary, the glut of authority will only be distracting. What counts is not how many authorities you cite, but how well you use them.
That’s what Scalia and Garner had to say about string cites in Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges. More pointedly, they also said “Indeed, string cites should not be used at all except for propositions of law that may be novel to the court. (Emphasis in original)
My view on string cites is a little more lenient that Scalia and Garner’s. In my opinion, there is one good reason to use string cites: when it’s important to present multiple authorities for a point of law. So, for example, you could use string cites to demonstrate that many jurisdictions follow the rule for which you are arguing. Or, staying within your jurisdiction, you could use a string cite to show that a rule is well-settled in your jurisdiction. In either of these circumstances, you may want to consider including a parenthetical explanation following each cited case. If you use string cites, you may want to consider putting them in footnotes, so they are less of a disruption than they would be than if you leave them in the text.
It’s important to recognize that string cites aren’t analysis. If you think it’s necessary to use a string cite, use it to buttress your analysis, not to supply it.
Two final tips are in order. First, don’t interrupt the text in mid-paragraph with a string cite, as it can be very difficult to discern where the string cite ends and the text resumes (especially if additional cite are interspersed in the text that follows the string cite). You can accomplish this by creating a short, self-contained paragraph for your string cite.
Second—and it should go without saying—read all of the cases you cite. Don’t simply copy and paste string cites you find in court opinions. Be sure that the cases are actually on point (you my be surprised by how many aren’t), and choose the best of the bunch. If you don’t ensure that each cited case is relevant, you risk alienating your reader and losing credibility.
Leave a Reply