Use Block Quotes Carefully and Sparingly

Format selected block quotes for easy reading. Many readers find the dense text of standard block quotes tiresome enough to read that they may skip over the blocks entirely. Istvan & Ricks, Top 10 Ways to Write a Bad Brief, N.J. Law. (2006).  Add extra leading between the lines to reduce that tendency. If there are paragraphs in the block quote, retain that formatting fountain peninstead of substituting a paragraph mark.

Choose block quotes carefully and sparingly.  Judge Alex Kozinski remarked: “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.” Kozinski, The Wrong Stuff, B.Y.U.L. Rev. 325, 329 (1992). Given the danger that long block quotes may not be read, paraphrase the less critical material to shorten the block.  Write the lead in to the block to reveal its importance.  If the block is important because it states the three elements of this or the five tests for that—then add letters or numerals in brackets or otherwise format to assist the reader.  Although a textual repetition of the content immediately following the block is likely to offend the reader, the points can be worked into the text at a later opportunity.

Have your secretary or a paralegal double check the accuracy of the quotations and citations to locate them.  Errors the court finds in one raise questions on the accuracy of all, and your opponent and the court will check.  E.g., Austin v. Pascarelli, 531 So. 2d 550, 551 (La.App. 1988) (“The trial court may have been mislead by the incorrect quote of La.RS 9:3921 contained in Pascarelli’s motion for summary judgment.”).

Be especially careful to check the use of ellipses to ensure that important qualifications or even the word “not” or another essential word has not accidentally been omitted.  Dube v. Eagle Global Logistics, 314 F.3d 193, 194-95 (5th Cir. 2002) (“We rejected Provost Umphrey’s briefs as noncompliant because, inter alia, they contained ‘specious arguments’ and had ‘grossly distorted’ the record through the use of ellipses to misrepresent the statements and orders of the district court.”); United States v. Johnson, 187 F.3d 1129, 1132 n.3 (9th Cir. 1999) (“The government used ellipses to leave this decisive part of the statute out of its brief. Such use of ellipses to omit a relevant section of the Oregon statute is improper. Use of ellipses to excise relevant and decisive sections of the statute in a way that benefits the government’s case is looked upon with great disfavor.”); Lish v. Harper’s Magazine Foundation, 807 F. Supp. 1090, 1093 (S.D.N.Y. 1992 (“The deletions — totalling approximately 48% of the excerpt — were not marked by ellipses.”).

The courts in these and, sadly, many other decisions made a public record that the attorneys involved could not be trusted.  Even if a public record is not made, judges talk to each other and may keep records in chambers of the attorneys whose work is suspect.  As a result, an attorney’s reputation may be tarnished in many courtrooms for a single serious quotation error.

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