Using Introductory Signals for Citations

imagesContext helps define words. In a tennis score, “love” means nothing. Lawyers often say “consideration” without meaning kindness.

The same is true for “see,” “see also,” “but see,” and the other ways of introducing citations in an appeal brief. These ordinary words carry specific meanings when introducing citations. The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style (West, 2d ed. revised 2006), explains:

  • No signal – the cited authority contains the text’s quote, states the definition or proposition, or directly supports the proposition.
  • See – the cited authority implicitly supports the proposition.
  • See also – the cited authority in not mentioned in the text and provides additional supporting material
  • Cf. – the cited authority provides an analogy that indirectly supports the proposition
  • E.g. – the cited authority is one of many that similarly state or support the proposition.
  • Compare . . . with – the cited authority support the stated proposition in different ways or the authorities arrive alternative analysis and arrive at different conclusions.
  • Contra. – the cited authority directly contradicts the stated proposition.
  • But see – the cited authority implicitly contradicts or limits the proposition.
  • See generally – the cited authority provides useful background information.
  • Accord – the cited authority is not mentioned in the text and states or directly supports the proposition.

The Redbook on usage notes that the Bluebook and ALWD citation systems may differ on a signal’s precise meaning and that not all citation systems use all these signals. The point here is consistency.

by Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner
by Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner

Why care? Why quibble over using see or cf. or nothing at all? The book, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges, explains that it boils down to credibility. Without an introductory signal, you are telling the court that the cited authority holds — explicitly — what you just said. If the holding is only implicit, use the see; if only analogous, use the cf. 



Anyone else have trouble keeping “see” and “accord” straight? Please leave me a reply or reach me here.




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