Bryan Garner is a world renowned lawyer, lexicographer, and teacher. His book Garner’s Modern American Usage and Elements of Legal Style is the leading source for the effective use of the English language. He is also the editor-in-chief of all current editions of Black’s Law Dictionary. Garner writes a monthly column for the ABA Journal. His latest piece discusses textual citations and the hindrances they place on legal writing.
Although legal writing is the least skimmable prose known to humankind, those who create it commonly do something that forces readers to skip over dozens, even hundreds, of characters in almost every paragraph. I refer, of course, to citations: the volume numbers and page numbers that clutter lawyers’ prose. These superfluous characters amount to useless detail that distracts the reader from the content. This habit also results in two evils that you might think contradictory: overlong sentences and paragraphs on the one hand (the extra characters bulk it up, after all), and underdeveloped paragraphs on the other.
I agree with Garner, textual citations make for messy paragraphs, but using footnotes as the alternative has its drawbacks as well.