Steed Style Guide, pt. 1

Complaints about The Bluebook have become commonplace. I have many. This, combined with the new availability of The Supreme Court’s Style Guide and The Solicitor General’s Style Guide—and with the longtime presence of Garner’s The Redbook, and with the presence, in Texas, of The Greenbook—has led me to become eclectic in my style choices, when it comes to brief writing. (I also have traces of MLA style still in me, from my days in academia.) Thus, over the years I haven’t been very consistent. I mean, I’m always consistent within a brief, to be sure—that’s imperative. But I haven’t been very consistent from brief to brief (or, more precisely, from case to case). Instead, I’ve been trying things out, here and there, to see how I like this or that.

Now, though, I think I’ve settled into some fairly consistent stylistic preferences that I’m going to go ahead and codify (here, on this blog) in my own personal style guide—with the caveat, of course, that I might change my mind at any moment.

So, without further ado, here is the first installment of the Steed Style Guide:

Basic Citations to Authority

No major changes to the generally accepted and well recognized formats for citing authorities. For these formats, I basically follow The Greenbook for Texas authorities and The Bluebook for everything else (federal cases, statutes, constitutions, law reviews, etc.). By “format” I’m referring to the basic structure of the citation—i.e., the order of things. For example, a case citation is structured in the way we’re all familiar with: [case name], [vol.#] [reporter] [page#], [pin-page#] [(court year)]. I endorse and follow these basic formats, with few exceptions.

Some details on format and style for basic citations:

  • Italicize case names, but not the comma separating the case name from the rest of the citation. Also italicize the titles of things like books and periodicals (e.g.Federal CourtsThe Atlantic Monthly, etc.). And italicize the whole case name—including the “v.” It’s too complicated to follow the SG’s style, which sometimes italicizes the “v.” and sometimes doesn’t—and this strikes me as a meaningless detail.
  • Do not include the year for a statute unless it matters—e.g., when comparing an older version of the statute with the current version. If it’s the current law, the year it was passed doesn’t matter. Unless it does.
  • No small caps, ever, in any citation. No all-caps either. Just regular font, sometimes italicized. (Yes, I’m talking about citations to rules of procedure, etc. No small caps!)
  • Use quotations marks—not italics—to denote the titles of things that appear in larger things (e.g., an article that appears in a periodical, or an essay that appears in a book of collected essays). Thus: Andrew Rosenthal, “White House Tutors Kremlin in How a Presidency Works,” New York Times (June 15, 1990) at A1.
  • Use a link shortener when citing to something on the internet, unless the original link is already very short. I use Google’s, but it doesn’t matter which shortener you use. Just use one. (And make sure all your links work, before filing.)
  • When using symbols like § or ¶, put a space between the symbol and the number that follows. Exceptions may be made to this rule, when facing a word-count emergency. (But do all you can to avoid word-count emergencies.)
    • Similarly, use spaces in record citations: e.g., “CR 404” or “RR 3:12-16.” This obviously will not apply in some situations—as in the Fifth Circuit, where record citations must conform to court requirements (e.g., “ROA.404”). And, again, the space can be eliminated in word-count emergencies (e.g., “CR404”). But, if possible, use spaces. It looks better.
  • When inserting a citation mid-sentence—i.e., not after the period—use parentheses, not commas or dashes. And if you have a sentence that requires a citation for the first half of the sentence, as well as a citation for the second half of the sentence, put both citations in parentheses, before the period. Thus: “Blah blah blah blah (citation), but blah blah blah blah (citation).” Not: “Blah blah blah blah (citation), but blah blah blah blah. Citation.” The former makes it clearer that the second citation applies to the second half of the sentence and not to the entire sentence.
    • Some people put record citations in parentheses, even when after the period of the preceding sentence. For example: “Blah blah blah blah blah. (CR 404.)” I’m ambivalent about this—but generally I do not put any citations in parentheses unless they are inserted mid-sentence.
  • Use “ibid.” when citing the same page of the same authority that was just cited. (“Ibid.” is short for ibidem, which is Latin for “in the same place,” referring to exactly the same place that was previously cited.) Use “id. at [page#]” when citing the same authority that was just cited, but at a different page. (“Id.” is short for idem, which is Latin for “the same,” referring to the same authority but at a different page.)
    • This is an adoption from the styles used by both the SG and the Supreme Court, and I like it because it is more precise than the universal use of “id.
    • Always italicize “ibid.” and “id.
    • Don’t use “ibid.” or “id.” to refer to a previously cited authority if any reference or citation to another authority intervenes—even if the intervention is parenthetical. Clarity is paramount, so use a short-form citation if there is any chance “ibid.” or “id.” will be misunderstood.
  • Generally, don’t use “at” when pin-citing to § or ¶. But when in doubt with pin-citing, use “at.”
  • Generally, avoid string citations. Cite more than one case only if there’s an explicit reason for doing so—e.g., to demonstrate a circuit split, to show courts have upheld the same rule for decades, or to show courts have ruled consistently across multiple jurisdictions. (This is more about how to use authority than about style & format, but it’s worth mentioning.)
Signals to Citations

If the cited authority is the direct source for the preceding proposition (or quotation), or the cited authority directly supports the preceding proposition, then there should be no signal. Otherwise, these are the signals that I use regularly, and what they should indicate:

  • See = the cited authority supports the preceding proposition, strongly but not quite directly.
  • See also = the cited authority supports the preceding proposition but is inferior to a preceding cited authority (e.g., it’s from another jurisdiction and is therefore nonbinding); never use “see also” as a stand-alone signal—the “also” indicates you’re adding to a preceding citation.
  • E.g. = the cited authority exemplifies the preceding proposition (a nuanced kind of support); most often appropriate when the preceding proposition calls for examples (e.g., “courts have often held…”); can be used with just one example (i.e., one case), but indicates there are more—so don’t use “e.g.” unless you’re sure you could list more than one.
  • Cf. = the cited authority supports the preceding proposition, by way of analogy or comparison (another nuanced kind of support); more indirect than “see” or “e.g.

I rarely use “compare…with” or “but see” or “accord.” I occasionally use the combo “see, e.g.” Other details about signals and style:

  • Do not italicize signals—with the exception of “e.g.
    • Here I’m adopting the SG’s style, which I like because it treats the signal more like part of the text of the brief, or the beginning of a new sentence, instead of like part of the citation that follows. In other words, use signals like the second-person imperative, as in: “consider the lilies of the field”; or “imagine there’s no heaven”; or “see Marbury v. Madison.”
    • But always italicize “e.g.,” because it’s Latin. You should always italicize “e.g.” and “i.e.,” whenever you use them.
  • Don’t italicize explanatory phrases like “aff’d” or “rev’d on other grounds” or “abrogated by.”
  • Don’t use “supra” or “infra” in connection with citations—except when following local rules or conventions (such as in a petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court). Generally, for citations, just use the full citation, the short-form citation, or “ibid.” or “id.” No need for “supra” or “infra.”
    • Incidentally, don’t ever use “supra” or “infra” in the text of your brief. Just use “above” or “below,” if needed.

Okay, that’s it for now. Another installment of Steed’s Style Guide will be coming soon.