Why do lawyers use the footnoting reference style?

By: Oyafajo Ridwan Ayodeji, Obafemi Awolowo University


Academic writing relies on more than just the ideas and experience of one author. It also uses the ideas and research of other sources: books, journal, articles, websites and so forth.

None of us know everything and rely on the work of others, so it is academic courtesy to acknowledge the work of others; this is what will lead us to footnoting reference style. Although, there are other ways of acknowledging others work when making a legal draft/writing, we will be talking about footnoting.

Footnoting cannot be discussed without talking about referencing. Referencing is used to tell the reader where ideas from other sources have been used in an assignment or text. Footnoting is a style of reference, explanation, or comment usually placed below the text on a printed page. The word ‘footnote’ was first used in 1607. Footnoting emerged in the 17th century but it’s now in vogue virtually in all forms of writings, be it Science, Law, Geography, History, Philosophy, Bible, Quran and so on.

Footnoting is a style employed in legal writing. Legal writing is a type of technical writing used by lawyers, judges, legislators and others in law to express legal analyses and legal rights and duties. So it will be wrong for someone to produce a work without the recognizing the sources they get some of the information used in their work from. Failure to properly acknowledge sources is called plagiarism, and it carries a significant academic penalty and a punishable offence. Plagiarism is strictly prohibited in academic work, especially in law review articles, seminar papers and similar writing intended to reflect the author’s original thoughts.

So, to avoid charges of plagiarism in legal writing, materials must be referenced and cited properly and this achieved by footnoting. Footnoting is the most common way of citing materials. There are two types of footnoting; the textual footnoting and the citation footnoting. Textual footnotes reference material/research of related interest to the subject but which does not directly impact the focus of the paper while citation footnotes cite the source of the argument or quotation used. A single footnote can contain both textual and citation information.

Footnotes are indicated in legal writing by superscripted numbers numbered sequentially from 1 [one] to the end of the text. Roman numerals and special characters should not be used in footnotes. Footnote numbers should be placed at the end of the sentence after the punctuation.

It should also be placed directly after the word when referring to just one word and the footnote number should be placed after the quotation marks when quoting a source. A writer may decide to elaborate more about information cited within the footnotes. Items footnoted must be footnoted on the same page on which the references appear, not on the next page. The exact page/s on which the information came from must also be cited in a footnote.

Footnoting is very important in the sense that it properly credits the originators of ideas, theories and research findings. Readers need to see how widely the writer has read and whether the writer has used key sources and how to date the information is and it also provides the readers the options to check on the information used and read more about it.

In conclusion, it can be seen that footnoting in legal writing is tailored towards efficient writing. The credibility of a legal work solely relies on how a writer can research and in the process of research, a writer has to use other source materials and by using it, he has to acknowledge these sources, we also saw the consequences of not acknowledging it which is plagiarism.

Footnoting is not only important for the writer but for the readers also because it enables them to read more about the topic discussed. Other hints in legal writing are introduction, originality, clarity, brevity, grammatical expression, accuracy, organization, use of paragraphs, mechanical accuracy and conclusion.

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