Legal Writing Tip: Use Block Quotations Effectively

by rocketmatter-admin March 3, 2014

I don’t know about you, but when I come across a block quotation — in a memo, a brief, or in passing on the street — my eyelids get heavy and my head droops. Wake me up when it’s over. Most readers have the same reaction.
So what’s a legal writer to do? You can minimize your use of block quotations, but you shouldn’t eliminate them altogether. Sometimes you need to provide the full language of a pertinent rule or provision; sometimes you need a longer quotation to convey the context or tone of the source you’re quoting.
If you do have a good reason for including a block quotation in your writing, here’s the key: make sure you introduce the quote in a way that makes its relevance obvious.
Let’s say your client, Creditco, is involved in a contract dispute with Marketco, which Creditco hired to market credit card products. And let’s say you’re making the point that Marketco did not have any exclusive rights under the contract.
Most legal writers would introduce the relevant provision of the contract with a bland lead-in like this one, essentially forcing the reader to read the dreaded, snooze-inducing contractual language:

The Agreement explicitly provides:
Products to be sold are those which may be offered for sale by Creditco, including but not limited to credit card products. Creditco at any time may, in its sole discretion, enter contractual agreements with other companies in addition to Marketco for the purpose of marketing and selling Creditco’s credit card products, including those products that are the subject of this Agreement.

Here’s a more effective, useful lead-in to the relevant contractual language:

The Agreement explicitly gives Creditco the right to hire another marketing firm at any time:
Products to be sold are those which may be offered for sale by Creditco, including but not limited to credit card products. Creditco at any time may, in its sole discretion, enter contractual agreements with other companies in addition to Marketco for the purpose of marketing and selling Creditco’s credit card products, including those products that are the subject of this Agreement.

In one fell swoop, you’ve made your reader’s life a tad easier and conveyed your point more powerfully. Your goal is basically to introduce the quoted language so thoroughly that the reader doesn’t need to read the quote itself to get your point. Those readers who skim block quotes will still get your point, while those rare, diligent readers who do read every word will be impressed that you characterized the contract fairly.
Yes, writing concisely is critical. But this is one area where it’s okay to be a little redundant. When you include a block quotation, make the effort to take your information—whether you’re persuading, explaining or analyzing—and serve it up on silver platter so that even sleepy, distracted readers can’t help but take it in.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dianne Rosky is the founder and principal of Rosky Legal Education LLC, a leading provider of writing and speaking training for lawyers. Dianne and her team train lawyers at major firms throughout the U.S. and internationally. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Dianne practiced at Sullivan & Cromwell and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and now teaches Legal English at N.Y.U. Law School.

Share post:

Subscribe to our Newsletter & Stay up to date with the latest articles, educational resources, and news.