Adopt a Consistent Cite-Checking Approach

A primary brief author may work over a number of days on the brief, followed by review and alteration by other attorneys and the client.fountain pen  Sections of the brief may be emailed to others for comment.  It can be hard to remember which case and statutory cites have been checked thoroughly. Even aside from cites that may be added by others, an attorney may run across a case supporting point X while focused on point Y. If the attorney adds the case to the draft brief in progress and returns to point Y, there may be nothing to distinguish that citation from the cites that have been checked.

Those who use Google Scholar and other imperfect sources of law need to track the cases located through that research to check them on Westlaw or Lexis because reconsideration may have caused alteration of the relevant paragraph.  Subsequent history may turn a good cite into a bad one. Annotations may reveal a good or bad construction of a statute not shown by Internet sources for the statutes.  Although the issue is especially acute with Google Scholar, the problem exists with every cite.

One solution to this recurring problem is to develop a personal pattern in citing each case. A case that has not been updated on Westlaw or Lexis might be typed or pasted in but not italicized or underlined until the updating is complete. A cite can be shown in bold or in color until checked when the bold or color is easily eliminated or changed to italics or underlining. If the case is located through an unofficial source, the citation can be typed with the jump page (pinpoint cite) left blank or put in color. There is no magic in the particular approach used as long as it is used consistently.

Judicial law clerks routinely check citations in briefs, as do opposing counsel. Finding a citation that has been reversed on appeal adds some spice to what may otherwise be a dull day. Developing a personal citation pattern to ensure that you know all you need about each case you cite is the best way to avoid that embarrassment.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Fimb (creative-commons license, no changes made).