June 5, 2014
You’ve just finished your research, you have a long list of pertinent search results, and now you’re ready to put together your brief or memo. The next step is to go through all of those results and pick out the ones you’re going to use. The question that may be on your mind now is “How many should I use?”
The short answer to the question of how many authorities should you cite is “enough.” If you ask a judge that same question, she probably would frame the answer as “Enough, but not too many.” Adding a long string of citations to cases that do little more than repeat a point you have already made seldom accomplishes more than taking up space in your brief or memo. You probably will not impress the judge with a long string of citations that make no new or additional substantive point. There are exceptions, of course. If you want to show that a point of law is well-established, it can be helpful to show that your point has been made accepted several times in several different cases (“Accord, . . .). Similarly, you may be urging the court to adopt a rule that has been adopted in other jurisdictions, but not in your own. Citing cases that show that the rule is one that courts of many other jurisdictions have accepted may help persuade your court to follow the trend. If you are presenting a legal principal that was articulated best in a very old case, it will help your argument to show that the principal has continued to be accepted in more recent cases. Situations like these call for citing many cases for reasons other than adding bulk to your final document.
Legal research instructors often advise students that their research is done when the authorities they are reading start to repeat what they have already read. A similar rule can apply for writing. You can stop citing cases if the citations are just repeating themselves.