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I'm writing a law school research paper where one of the sections describes multiple legal cases, each under a separate heading. For each case I am describing the factual history of the case, then the holding, noting specific areas of interest to the paper topic.

Should I have a separate footnote for every sentence, as each is pulled or inferred from the case I am referencing? If not, how should I rephrase?

Current my cites look something like this, and I'm concerned: fn.1 - [case] fn.2 - Id at x. . . . . fn.10 - Id at y.

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    Have you asked your instructor what their expectations are?
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 30, 2022 at 22:13

3 Answers 3

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I once have asked this my supervisor. He said that no one will - or can - critize you if you do add a reference for each sentence, while you might be critized if you don't add a reference for one critical sentence. So, following this logic, it's better to have more citations then less.

However, this is theory. In practice, I personally would follow a more pragmatic rule now: If multiple sentences are taken from the same source (or case in your case), I would only add a single footnote for the first occurence; but in that footnote, I would say something like "The case is described following Smith (2000)" or similar. The important thing is that the reader always needs to be able to distinguish which thoughts are from you and which are taken from literature.

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In contrast to @Remirror, I recommend that you cite every single instance, as you have suggested, with reference to the particular location in the original.

Despite one's sense that the page would be less cluttered without such a density of citations, you should follow the standard (tradition?) of citation in your domain of practise. In law, pinpoint citation (even repetitive pinpoint citation) is the norm in many jurisdictions; see, for example, the decision from the Supreme Court of the United States in Roe v Wade or the decision of the High Court of Australia in Pell v The Queen.

It is particularly easy to see the repetitive pinpoint citation in Pell v The Queen. If you scroll to the end of the very long web-page, you will see the long list of references accumulated in a way that is more difficult to see when they appear as page footnotes.

My impression, from following transcripts of proceedings in both courts, is that repeating pinpoint citations is absolutely vital in oral argument when the possibility exists of an interrogating justice on the bench asking "Where, exactly, Ms Smith, does the case say what you say it does?"

The approach in most of the law journals I have seen is to follow exactly the same approach as one finds in the case reports themselves.

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Put yourself in the shoes of your reader and think about the information they will need to easily check your assertions and verify that they are correct, or to go back to the source for more information. The reader will want to know the citations of the cases you are referring to, but will also want to be able to find the specific pieces of information you refer to in those cases, without having to read the whole case to find them.

In order to assist your reader to find the necessary information, typically you would give an initial citation to the case when you first start discussing it, and then you would give judge-paragraph references for each new assertion about the content of that case. Depending on how quickly you are running through information in the case, the latter might be required for each sentence, though in some instances you might get away with having several sentences describing an aspect of the case with a judge-paragraph citation for all of them at the end. Nevertheless, you should make sure that it is simple for the reader to locate and confirm the relevant parts of the case for each of your assertions --- do not make them read then entire legal case scouring for confirmation of one of your assertions.

To see why this is helpful, I'll give a short example discussing a recent legal case. Depending on the specific legal citation conventions you are using, this looks something like the following:

The High Risk Serious Offenders Act 2020 (WA) (hereafter called the "HRSO Act") allows the State Government to apply to the WA Supreme Court for an order in relation to a "serious offender" under a custodial sentence. The High Court of Australia recently considered a challange to the consitutional validity of parts of the Act (Garlett v Western Australia [2022] HCA 30).

This case related an offender in custody, Mr Garlett, with an extensive criminal history and a history of drug abuse (per Kiefel CJ, Keane and Steward JJ at paras 1-3). The WA Government applied for an order under the HRSO Act in relation to Mr Garlett and he responded by challenging the constitutional validity of the Act, leading the High Court to consider a limited aspect of this initial challenge (paras 6-8). The argument advanced by Garlett was that the exercise of non-judicial powers under the HRSO Act is inconsistent with the WA Supreme Court being invested as a repository of federal judicial jurisdiction (paras 39-42).

From the above description, the reader can find the legislation and the case I am talking about, but they can also find the relevant paragraphs for each part I discuss. In particular, they can verify that the applicant has "an extensive criminal history and a history of drug abuse" (at least according ot the court), they can verify the scope of the challenge, and they can verify the nature of the argument advanced for that challenge. In each instance, the reader is told to relevant paragraphs of the judgment that discuss this part, so they don't need to read through the entire case to find it.

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