Writers must be aware of the customs, conventions, and expectations of their audiences. The overriding constant should be a diligent and meticulous attention to detail; writers should err on the side of providing, rather than omitting, reference information.
“You must acknowledge all material quoted, paraphrased, or summarized from any published or unpublished work. Failing to cite a source, deliberately or accidentally, is plagiarism—representing as your own the words or ideas of another.” Harbrace College Handbook 412 (12th ed., 1994). Undergraduate professors accept “common knowledge” without citation as long as it can be found in various sources and is not a unique set of words.
The expectation is that writers will rely, almost exclusively, on existing authority. Thus, citing existing authority adds credibility to the writer’s discussion. Common knowledge generally derives from case law or statute and must be cited.
Students may share work products only up to the point that their professor authorizes team work.
The frame of reference and expectations shift outside the academic environment. In practice, legal writers liberally borrow language from other sources; frequently they collaborate on a project. Some lawyers write under the name of their supervising partner, judge, or government official. Occasionally, lawyers may write law review articles or publish CLE materials; then they adjust to outside expectations, which may require careful source attribution. Nevertheless, like law school writers, lawyers continue to depend on legal citations to provide authority.