Stylish Legal Citation

58 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2018 Last revised: 12 Aug 2021

See all articles by Alexa Chew

Alexa Chew

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: August 3, 2018


Can legal citations be stylish? Is that even a thing? Yes, and this Article explains why and how. The usual approach to writing citations is as a separate, inferior part of the writing process, a perfunctory task that satisfies a convention but isn’t worth the attention that stylish writers spend on the “real” words in their documents. This Article argues that the usual approach is wrong. Instead, legal writers should strive to write stylish legal citations — citations that are fully integrated with the prose to convey information in a readable way to a legal audience. Prominent legal style expert Bryan Garner and others have repeatedly pinned legal style problems on citations. For example, Garner has argued that in-line (or textual) citations supposedly interrupt the prose and cause writers to ignore “unshapely” paragraphs and poor flow between sentences. Garner’s cause célèbre has been to persuade lawyers and judges to move their citations into footnotes, which he asserts will fix the stylistic problems caused by citations. This Article proposes both a different explanation for unstylish citations and a different solution. The explanation is that legal style experts don’t address citation as a component of legal style, leaving practitioners with little guidance about how to write stylish citations or even what they look like. This Article summarizes the citation-writing advice offered to practitioners in legal-style books like Plain English for Lawyers. Spoiler alert: it’s not much. The solution is to restructure the revision and editing processes to incorporate citations and treat them like “real” words, too. Rather than cordoning off citations from the rest of the prose, writers should embrace them as integral to the text as a whole. This Article describes a method for writing citations that goes well beyond “Bluebooking.” This method should be useful to any legal writer — from first-semester 1Ls to judicial clerks to experienced appellate practitioners.

Keywords: citation, style, legal writing, legal research

Suggested Citation

Chew, Alexa, Stylish Legal Citation (August 3, 2018). 71 Arkansas Law Review 823 (2018), Available at SSRN:

Alexa Chew (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States

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