Quoting judicial opinions can authenticate and bolster arguments in a brief. The problem is that direct quotes can get cumbersome. The opinion you are quoting may have quoted from another decision, which may have quoted from yet another. And so on.

Spend some time with Rules 5.2(e) and 10.6 of the Bluebook and you can get depressed about the parentheses, brackets, ellipses, case conversions, and primary and secondary (and beyond) quotation marks a passage might require. Not that the Bluebook actually tells you what to do with multi-layered quotes.

What you end up with can look like this:

“[T]he elements a cause of action … for False Imprisonment [in Missouri courts] are (1) … ‘the detention or restraint of [an individual] against [his or her] will and (2) … the unlawfulness of [that] detention or restraint,’ Darling v. Pan, 467 F.3d 226, 238 (8th Cir. 2006) (quoting Organa v. Vader, 118 SW3d 108, 119 (Mo. 2005)).’” McCloskey v. Gardner, 858 S.W.3d 457, 473 (Mo. Ct. App. 2020) (citing Bucket v. Wonka, 366 U.S. 215, 244 (1961), and Sophie v. Giant, 133 S.W.3d 485, 488 (Mo. 2007)).

Jack Metzler, an appellate lawyer and legal writing expert in Washington, D.C., proposed an alternative in a twitter post and a journal article during 2017. His suggestion was straightforward and brilliant: omit the “superfluous material” and signal the omission “by using a single new parenthetical—(cleaned up).” The quote above might be written thus:

“The elements of a cause of action for false imprisonment in Missouri courts are the detention or restraint of one against his will and the unlawfulness of that detention or restraint.” McCloskey v. Gardner, 858 S.W.3d 457, 473 (Mo. Ct. App. 2020) (cleaned up).

Mr. Metzler’s new parenthetical isn’t in the Bluebook yet. And I haven’t seen it in a Supreme Court opinion. But it has been deployed federal judges in every circuit—the Eighth Circuit more than any other so far—and a steadily-increasing number of districts. Most importantly, Bryan Garner promptly endorsed (cleaned up): “This signal solves a problem that is bound to grow worse as more and more opinions contain third- and fourth-generation repetitions of quotations.”

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Photo of Michael Gross Michael Gross

Michael Gross is an appellate lawyer in St. Louis, Missouri. In addition to his work in appellate courts, Mr. Gross frequently consults with and performs legal research and writing for trial attorneys before they file suit, during the pendency of their cases in…

Michael Gross is an appellate lawyer in St. Louis, Missouri. In addition to his work in appellate courts, Mr. Gross frequently consults with and performs legal research and writing for trial attorneys before they file suit, during the pendency of their cases in trial courts, and through the mediation process.

Mr. Gross has represented clients in the United States Supreme Court, the Second, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits, and the appellate courts of several states. He previously served as a member of the Eighth Circuit’s civil jury instructions committee.

After graduating from the University of Michigan Law School in 1971 Mr. Gross served as law clerk to the Hon. M. C. Matthes, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. He speaks frequently on topics related to appellate practice, legal writing, oral argument, and legal strategy and problem-solving at seminars sponsored by bar associations and other organizations.