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 to use a block quotation to convey the full context or tone of a ruling.

platterHere’s the key: If you have a good reason for including a block quotation in your writing, 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 are making the point that the contract with Marketco was not exclusive—that Creditco had the right to contract with other marketing firms.

Most writers would introduce the relevant provision of the contract like this:

The Agreement explicitly provided:

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:

blockhead

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.

Your goal is basically to introduce the quoted language so thoroughly that the reader doesn’t need to actually read the quote itself to get your point. Those readers who skim block quotes will still take away your point, while those rare, diligent readers who do read every word will be satisfied 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 will take it in.

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Beware the double tentative!

Beware the double tentative!January 31, 2014 Grammar

You’re probably well aware of the double negative, but I’m guessing you haven’t heard of the double tentative. (That’s an educated guess, given that it’s a term of my own invention.) The double tentative, as I’m defining it, is the use of two words or phrases that add lawyerly layers of uncertainty to an otherwise clear […]

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Talking Turkey: Mind Your Metaphors

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Here’s a thought: While those of us in the U.S. are preparing for the turkey-fest that’s Thanksgiving, this Thursday is just another weekday in the rest of the world. And, to use a cliché that’s probably understood worldwide, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cultural references Americans take for […]

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Who dat?

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I’ll cut to the chase: in my view, writers should use who rather than that to modify humans. So write this: the lawyer who is handling the case. Not this: the lawyer that is handling the case. Full disclosure: it is technically permissible to use that to modify people. No less an authority than Bryan […]

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To hyphenate or not to hyphenate?

To hyphenate or not to hyphenate?September 13, 2013 Punctuation

The basic rule is straightforward: you need a hyphen to join two (or more) modifiers if the words taken together modify a noun that follows. Got that? A couple examples: A one-page letter A well-established rule The hyphen essentially tells the reader that one modifies page, and well modifies established. But don’t hyphenate when the noun comes before the modifier: The letter is one page. […]

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Who or whom? Hmmm…

Who or whom? Hmmm...July 16, 2013 Grammar

Deciding between who and whom gets tricky in complex sentences. I realized just how tricky when two of the snazziest writers I know—my brother and a friend who wrote for Businessweek for many years—emailed me to ask whether the following sentences require who or whom: Suffolk County detectives looking for whoever killed four prostitutes are […]

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Beyond the Smiley Face: Use the Colon to Assert Confidence

Beyond the Smiley Face: Use the Colon to Assert ConfidenceMay 29, 2013 Punctuation

Apart from its key role in the smiley face, the colon is a tragically underused punctuation mark. Lots of professional writers use colons only when they must—to introduce a list or a long quotation. But the colon is a great tool for showing strength and confidence in a low-key way. The colon’s function is to […]

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Know any NY area law students?

Dianne Rosky presenting at PALS May 14, 2013 News

Later this month, I’ll be presenting my core legal writing workshop, Essential of Effective Legal Writing for one of my favorite organizations, PALS (Practicing Attorneys for Law Students). The program is scheduled for May 21 at 6:30 pm; Sullivan & Cromwell is hosting. This year marks the 10th year we’ve offered this program – a […]

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No Excuses: Always Start With Your Main Point

No Excuses: Always Start With Your Main Point April 24, 2013 Brief writing

In working with lawyers on their writing, I’ve heard lots of excuses for not starting a document with the main point. The law is complicated. I want them to read the whole memo. I need to explain the background first. Fuhgeddaboudit! No matter what you’re writing—a brief, a memo, a letter, or an email—you need […]

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Women on the Move

Women on the MoveNovember 26, 2012 Legal writing

I posted recently about speech patterns that undermine women’s professional authority.  This Wednesday, I’ll be speaking on a panel on communication skills for women attorneys.  The panel is part of the New York State Bar Association’s annual Women on the Move conference. (Love the name!) My panel is Communicating Effectively: Being Heard Loud and Clear. I’m excited that the organizers thought […]

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