Resolved: Citations in Footnotes?
Four years ago, a front-page New York Times story reported on a surprising legal battle: whether lawyers should continue putting citations in the text, or whether they should relegate citations to footnotes.
The fight rages on today! In fact, I get more questions about this issue than almost any other.
Letís start by summarizing the two competing views. Then Iíll offer my own take on this hot topic.
The Pro-Footnote Camp
Its leader: Bryan Garner
The Pro-Text Camp
Its leader: Judge Richard Posner
A Modest Proposal
Where do I come down? In theory, Bryan Garner is right. In practice, though, the legal world does not appear ready for citation footnotes. My advice: donít put citations in footnotes unless youíre sure your judge wants you to. Only a few have said they do.
I would, however, suggest the following compromise:
Put your citations after your sentences, not at the beginning or in the middle.
Thus, not this:
Likewise, in Roy v. Volkswagen of America, Inc., 896 F.2d 1174 (9th Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 500 U.S. 928 (1991), the Ninth Circuit reinstated a $3,000,000 verdict in favor of a family injured in 1982 when their van rolled over.
The Ninth Circuit has found, for example, that a jury could award $3 million to a family injured in a rollover. Roy v. Volkswagen of America, Inc., 896 F.2d 1174 (9th Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 500 U.S. 928 (1991).
By leaving citations in the text but isolating them from your message, you can address the readability concerns of the pro-footnote camp while still keeping with tradition.