November 2, 2010

Style matters

There is an aspect of practice before the California Supreme Court that is often overlooked, especially by the occasional appellate practitioner. That is the simple or complicated, fascinating or mind-numbing (depending on your perspective) matter of citation form. By itself, it won’t win your case. But it can help set the right tone. Let us explain.

Rule 1.200 of the California Rules of Court provides: “Citations to cases and other authorities in all documents filed in the courts must be in the style established by either the California Style Manual or The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, at the option of the party filing the document. The same style must be used consistently throughout the document.”

While either the California Style Manual, colloquially known as the “Yellow Book,” or the Bluebook styles of citation are thus approved, the Yellow Book is much preferred in California, as evidenced by the fact that the Supreme Court and other California appellate courts employ this style exclusively. Indeed, the advisory committee comment to Rule 8.204 of the California Rules of Court provides: “Brief writers are encouraged to follow the citation form of the California Style Manual (4th ed., 2000).” Advocates who practice frequently before California appellate courts have taken note of this fact and generally comply.

So why trouble to faithfully follow the citation form of the court before whom you are practicing (especially if it’s not the Bluebook style we all learned about in law school)? Because, by so doing, you might obtain certain advantages. First, by adhering to a single, rational system of citation that is familiar to the court you will facilitate the court’s task of evaluating your legal citations and, thus, deciding your case. The court will no doubt appreciate the care with which you’ve prepared your briefs to help it do its job.

Second, and perhaps less obviously, by following the court’s preferred system of citation, you can set yourself apart from your opponent who, chances are, is not as fastidious. While there is no way to quantify the advantage thus gained, it seems reasonable that the court would appreciate a brief that shares the same citation form—the same careful attention to detail—as its own opinions.

Interestingly, in his recent book, Unbillable Hours, former Latham & Watkins associate Ian Graham describes being chastised by a supervising attorney because he used the Blue Book rather than the Yellow Book citation format in a state court habeas petition. Ian only later learned that the state appellate courts permit either format.

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