Robert's Rules of Order vs Parliamentary Procedure
Parliamentary procedure is not just a book called Robert’s Rules of Order. Robert’s is the best-known book on parliamentary procedure, but there are others. Depending on your specific group, Robert’s might not even be relevant. For instance, some organizations of physicians and dentists use a book entitled The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure as their guide to meetings. State legislatures often fall back on Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure. Such groups don’t talk about or refer to Robert’s Rules of Order. It’s just not their book.
With that said, the most discussed procedure book is Robert’s. That’s because, without question, it’s the 800-pound gorilla of the parliamentary world. Of organizations that use a parliamentary authority, most follow (or at least claim to follow) Robert’s. To the public, Robert’s Rules and parliamentary procedure are viewed as one and the same. Some courts have held that Robert’s can be relied upon even in the absence of a required parliamentary book. The fact that Robert’s is the most popular and easiest-to-locate book on parliamentary procedure argues strongly in its favor as a parliamentary authority. (A "parliamentary authority" is a parliamentary procedure manual followed by an organization because of an adopted rule or language in the bylaws.)
Parliamentary procedure isn’t just about motions, either, such as the motion to Adjourn or for the Previous Question. Sure, motions are how business is transacted in a formal meeting. But motions only take up about a third of the current Robert’s. The rest of the book is a wonderful resource for anyone who has to spend time in meetings. For instance, there’s a chapter on how to run a meeting if you’ve never presided over one before (aptly named “Suggestions for Inexperienced Presiding Officers”). One chapter describes how to take minutes, noting that you don’t need to write down what people say, just what was done. There’s even a set of sample minutes. Another chapter explores options for dealing with problem members or guests. A final chapter discusses how to remove an elected officer (if you’re an officer, take comfort in knowing that hardly anyone ever reads that far).
With all this discussion about what a great book Robert’s is, let’s talk for a moment on how to find the right book. Wait--find the right book? How hard can that be? Well, it’s actually pretty confusing. The term “Robert’s Rules” isn’t copyrighted, so you’ll find all sorts of books with the phrase “Robert’s Rules” in the title. Big books. Little books. Books with cartoons. Even books that have nothing to do with parliamentary procedure! Most often, these other books are earlier editions of Robert’s or knockoffs. While some are fine works, they likely aren’t the one you’re looking for, so you can end up with the wrong book by mistake.
There is always one official Robert’s that is the successor to earlier works, and the current edition is Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (12th Edition). If your organization’s rules specify the “latest edition” of Robert’s, this is your book. The newest Robert’s came out in late 2020 and can be identified by “Newly Revised 12th Edition” on its cover and the fact that it’s 714 pages long (without a single cartoon).
Jim Slaughter is an attorney, Certified Professional Parliamentarian, Professional Registered Parliamentarian, and past President of the American College of Parliamentary Lawyers. He is author of four books on meeting procedure, including Robert's Rules of Order Fast Track and Notes and Comments on Robert’s Rules, Fifth Edition. Jim is a partner in Law Firm Carolinas. For more information, visit www.jimslaughter.com.
Charts and articles are intended to provide general information on parliamentary procedure and are not legal advice or a legal opinion.