Posts Tagged ‘citations’

Professionalism and Wikipedia

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Despite the title to this post, there is NO connection between professionalism and Wikipedia when it comes to legal or academic research. When I point this out to students or practicing paralegals I generally get responses indicating that the listeners are somewhat stunned by the comment, but they are not all the same. The “stunning” seems to be of two types: those who are stunned because they cannot believe anyone uses Wikipedia to do research and those who cannot understand why I am opposed to its use for these purposes, i.e., they don’t believe anyone really cares if you get your information from Wikipedia. I get similar responses on the issue of citing authority: Some can’t imagine that any legal professional would fail to cite authority and some who c do not believe anyone really cares.

Aside from the many documented instances of Wikipedia being wrong, e.g., reporting Senators Kennedy and Byrd as dead long before the actual events and Rush Limbaugh being hoaxed via Wikipedia today’s passes on a story from Legal Blog Watch in a post entitled “Judge Warns Defense Lawyers in Pitino Extortion Case: Don’t Crib Law Discussion from Wikipedia” in which it is clear that some people do care. This is especially important to legal professionals when the “someone” is a federal judge:

A federal judge has issued a legal writing warning to lawyers who sought a new trial for a woman convicted a trying to extort money from University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino.

The defense should not have copied its discussion of ineffective assistance from Wikipedia, U.S. District Judge Charles Simpson of Louisville wrote in a February opinion (PDF). His concerns are outlined in footnote 4 of his opinion denying a new trial for the defendant, Karen Sypher, Legal Blog Watch reports.

“The court notes here that defense counsel appears to have cobbled much of his statement of the law governing ineffective assistance of counsel claims by cutting and pasting, without citation, from the Wikipedia website,” Simpson wrote.

“The court reminds counsel that such cutting and pasting, without attribution, is plagiarism. The court also brings to counsel’s attention Rule 8.4 of the Kentucky Rules of Professional Conduct, which states that it is professional misconduct for an attorney to ‘engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.’ …

“Finally, the court reminds counsel that Wikipedia is not an acceptable source of legal authority in the United States District Courts.”

Legal Blog Watch credits Legal Writing Prof Blog for noting the footnote

Professionals do not rely on Wikipedia.  Professionals cite their sources in work submitted to courts. Period.

The (100) Buck(s) Stops at the Lawyer, but…

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

I’m thinking about starting a new category for reports of consequences resulting from mistakes in documents filed with courts. Today reports that a A Wisconsin lawyer has been fined $100 for getting a citation wrong in a brief submitted to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

The lawyer cited an unpublished case that supposedly upheld a stipulated damages clause in a vending machines contract. But a search for the case based on the name provided by the lawyer turned up a misrepresentation case brought by newlyweds against a wedding photographer.

The cite wasn’t helpful, either. It was listed as “2005 AP 160,” which sent the appeals court to 2005 WI App 160 and another “dead end,” the footnote said. When the court finally found the real case—which had an entirely different name—it learned “2005 AP 160” was the docket number.

“Different name, different citation, different district (District IV) but, as promised, unpublished,” the court said in the footnote.

The reports source, Legal Blog Watch notes both the viral way in which blog post spread and an interesting note on sloppiness:

OK, now there is a small kicker to this story of a sloppy cite. I learned about it from a post this week at WisBlawg. WisBlawg credited its source as Law Librarian Blog. Law Librarian Blog said it got it from Legal Writing Prof Blog. And Legal Writing Prof Blog identified its source as Lisa Mazzie at Marqette.

At where? Yes, it seems that Legal Writing Prof Blog forgot that u-after-q rule and mangled the name of a major law school. That was not the only error in this short Legal Writing Prof Blog post. It identified its quote of the court’s opinion as taken from footnote 5. It then cited the quote as “2008 WI App 160, ¶ 14 n.4.” Was it footnote four or footnote five?

As professionals we must strive to eliminate sloppiness from everything we do in our professionals lives. I encourage my students and all praticing paralegals to maintain professionalism even in emails and other communications that are done at work or relate to work. We cannot be correct 100% of the time. (I now have one kind hearted reader who proofreads most of my posts and emails me when I need to make a correction. Thanks, Lauren. ) but the standards for court pleadings are high as discussed in previous posts here.

In this case, the consequences could have been higher than $100. Not all courts will track down a citation the way this one did. Many will simply not read the case and discount the argument. Afterall, if the case was not important enough for the legal team to get the citation right, it couldn’t be important enough for the judge and her clerk to spend time searching for it.  If the case was not important to the argument, then one wonders why it was being cited at all!

While the lawyer will pay the court imposed penalty, it is likely that any paralegal working on the brief will also suffer some consequences.

The long-term solution is for the legal team to have an established and enforced procedure for cross-checking all citations, and proofreading all documents submitted to the court, other counsel and clients. This solution requires that the office also have a time-management system in place to ensure that work is completed in time for cross-checking and proofreading. Remember the dance!

Now that I’ve finished this I have decided to make a new category for these legal parables: Consequences of Sloppiness is the working title, but I’m open to suggestions.