The Short and the Long of It: Proposals for Short Cites to Improve Electronic Research

Posted Nov 24 2016 by Brandon Rose

“Marry, this is the short and the long of it.”

                        —Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor, act II, scene 2, line 853

Legal authority is fundamental to our trade.  California Rules of Court, rule 1.200, requires all case citations in documents filed in California courts to be in the style of either the California Style Manual (hereinafter “CSM”) or The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (hereinafter “The Bluebook”).  Although these style guides have made efforts to adapt rules to address technological changes, the rules for short cites continue to lead to the omission of information useful in researching cases electronically on, for example, Lexis, Westlaw, or the Internet.  This article proposes revisions to the short-form style to ensure short cites allow quick access to cited material using any research tool. 

Under current rules, full cites to California cases may be as follows:

  1. (Wright v. City of Santa Clara (1989) 213 Cal.App.3d 1503, 1507.) [CSM]; or
  2. Wright v. City of Santa Clara, 213 Cal. App. 3d 1503, 1507 (Ct. App. 1989) [The Bluebook].

After providing the full cite, subsequent citations to the same case may be written using a shortened form.  There are several acceptable short forms, for example,

  1. With an inception page and a point page: (Wright v. City of Santa Clara, supra, 213 Cal.App.3d 1503, 1507.) [CSM];
  2. With only a point page: (Wright v. City of Santa Clara, supra, 213 Cal.App.3d at p. 1507.) [CSM];
  3. Alternatively: Wright, 213 Cal. App. 3d at 1507; [The Bluebook]; or
  4. Where there is no intervening authority, the specialized Id. or Ibid. short-forms may apply.

The problem with the short form arises when it is used in subsequent paragraphs without including the inception page (see formats two and three, above).  When looking up cases in physical reporters—i.e., books—the volume, reporter, and point page are generally sufficient to locate the cited material.  However, in today’s legal practice, lawyers often use computer-based sources to pull cases.  The most common method of pulling cases electronically is to enter the volume, reporter, and inception page into a search bar.  Omitting the inception page inhibits the reader’s ability to search for cases electronically.  Although the style guides do not prohibit including the inception page in short cites (see format one, above), under current rules, the inception page in short cites is not required, and, in practice, is rarely included.     

Of course, the reader may find the inception page by scanning through the text to locate the full cite, but this disrupts the reader’s train of thought.  Citation style should enhance, not hinder, the reading experience.

To facilitate electronic research, I propose a new rule that all short cites include the inception page, unless the full citation already appears in the same paragraph.  This format allows for use of the short form, while still conveying the information necessary to efficiently locate the source material electronically. 

Although including the inception page would lengthen most short cites, other stylistic devices are available to further simplify the short form.  For example, the style guides already permit shortening case names to a single party in short cites, unless doing so would cause ambiguity.  Also, the CSM’s “supra” signifier for short cites is superfluous and may be omitted.  Although not shortening the citation, the CSM’s style of providing a parentheses around a citation creates contrast with the text, improving readability.

Here is an example of the proposed style for short cites appearing in subsequent paragraphs after the full citation is given: (Wright, 213 Cal.App.3d 1503, 1507.)  Except for the deletion of “supra,” this proposed style closely resembles the CSM’s style, but adds the new rule that the inception page should always be included, unless the full citation appears in the same paragraph, thereby ensuring the reader has all of the information necessary to efficiently locate the source material.  

Do you agree with my proposal for short cites?  Do you have any other ideas for improving citation style?  Send your comments to brose@mcmanislaw.com or on Twitter @brandonroselaw.com.

 

Brandon Rose is an attorney with McManis Faulkner.  His practice focuses on family law, assisting clients in all aspects of marital dissolution, including property division, child custody and visitation, assessment of child and spousal support, domestic violence and enforcement of court orders.