You’ve already adopted the 12th edition of Robert’s Rules of Order

Did you know, gentle reader, that if your parliamentary authority is Robert’s Rules of Order, you have already adopted the 12th edition? Here is the quotation from the horse’s mouth:

This Twelfth Edition supersedes all previous editions and is intended automatically to become the parliamentary authority in organizations whose bylaws prescribe “Robert’s Rules of Order,” “Robert’s Rules of Order Revised,” “Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised,” or “the current edition” of any of these titles, or the like, without specifying a particular edition.    Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 12th edition (RONR), p. vii

I’m not too thrilled with this arrangement, since it means that groups that use Robert’s Rules automatically are shifted to a book that they may not yet have reviewed or studied. However, it is the way this particular authority is structured. So if you use Robert’s Rules, you should purchase, review, and use the 12th edition, unless your bylaws specify a specific earlier edition.

Differences between 11th and 12th editions of Robert’s Rules

The good news is that the 12th and its immediate predecessor, the 11th, are the same in substance. There are minor changes in language and in some details. The 12th also uses a different reference system. But if you’re accustomed to doing things “according to Robert,” you won’t have to make a lot of changes in your practice. One great new feature is an appendix with sample rules for electronic meetings.

The new edition is printed in slightly larger type on larger pages, so the length is approximately the same. The reference system, identifying portions by section number rather than by page and line number, is an improvement. An electronic edition has been published at the same time, and the use of section numbers makes referring between the paper and electronic version much easier.

The index is a substantial leap forward. It has sub-topics and cross references that increase the ease of use. Given that Robert’s Rules of Order is intended more as a reference work than a book to read straight through, you will find that index invaluable.

Get the spiral-bound paper 12th edition of Robert’s Rules

If you want a paper edition, we recommend the spiral-bound edition, available only from the National Association of Parliamentarians at this link. It is much easier to work with than the regular paperback. (Be careful in choosing and don’t buy the hole-punch edition unless you specifically prefer that format! It’s a lot of loose pages.)

Sample Rules for Electronic Meetings very helpful

You can download the 12th edition appendix, “Sample Rules for Electronic Meetings,” at this link. The appendix includes bylaws provisions and rules that cover many important situations, such as signing in and out, video display, voting, technical malfunctions, and forced disconnections. Reviewing these sample rules brought to mind features that should be included in any set of rules for online or virtual meetings. There are 4 scenarios given:

  1. Use of full-featured internet meeting services
  2. Teleconference with internet voting and document sharing
  3. Some members participate by speakerphone in otherwise face-to-face meeting
  4. Telephone meeting without internet support

Do you need Robert’s Rules of Order at all?

People sometimes say to me, “Well, we don’t use Robert’s Rules of Order, so we don’t have to worry about meeting procedure.” This is false comfort! In our view, rules of procedure are necessary for any kind of organization, no matter how casual. We recommend that groups adopt Robert’s Rules of Order as the foundation for their meetings, and then create their own rules of procedure to build the house in which they live.

Robert’s Rules of Order offers more flexibility than people commonly realize. There are different rules for small boards, and boards can adopt their own special rules of order.

If you’re very informal, you may like the bare minimum 12 rules given in our article, Essential Guidelines for Small, Casual Groups. And if you really want to get down to bare bones, read Follow four fundamental guidelines for successful meetings. In our view, these four guidelines are the heart of Robert’s Rules.

The principles of Robert’s Rules of Order apply in legal cases

It’s also important to know that the courts have found that the principles of parliamentary procedure are part of the common law. Should your board or local government body get into legal trouble, which we hope will never happen, being able to demonstrate that you held a fair meeting that was run according to correct procedure will help protect you from liability.

Robert’s Rules of Order is one formulation of common parliamentary procedure. Some states require certain types of organization to use it. However, there are also other parliamentary authorities, such as the American Institute of Parliamentarians’ Standard Code of Procedure, and Rosenberg’s Rules of Order (which we do not recommend – read about its problems here).

Avoiding automatic adoption of 12th edition of Robert’s Rules

As mentioned above, if you have adopted a specific earlier edition of Robert’s Rules, then the automatic rollover does not apply. The University of Michigan recently had a kerfuffle about a faculty vote of no-confidence in the President. I was interested to see that they are working under the 10th edition of Robert’s Rules of Order.

My colleague Colette Collier Trohan has proposed an intriguing solution to the problem of adopting rules that you’ve never seen. She suggests including this language in your bylaws:

The twelfth edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised shall govern this association in all cases to which it is applicable and in which it is not inconsistent with these bylaws and any special rules of order the association may adopt. When a new edition of the parliamentary authority is published, the board may, by majority vote and after ensuring that they have familiarized themselves with the changes in the new version, update the edition reference in the bylaws. Members shall be notified promptly after the change is made.

Colette gives more details about the 12th edition in her Snippet #199, The New Robert’s Rules, available on her website,

Beware of outdated Internet editions and knock-off books

The 4th edition of Robert’s Rules of Order, published in 1914, is out of copyright. If you randomly search the Internet, you may come up with this outdated version, which you should not use. There are also many knock-offs that purport to give you Robert’s Rules, but in fact are not authoritative.

Adopt rules of procedure to serve your community better

Working together to review and/or adopt your own rules of procedure ensures that everyone buys in to the process.  This means that your board will hold smoother and more productive meetings. You will be less liable to internal dissension and disruption. Most important, you will be able to serve your organization and your community to the very best of your abilities.

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Ann Macfarlane

Ann G. Macfarlane is a Professional Registered Parliamentarian. She offers an interactive and user-friendly way to master the key points for effective, efficient and fair meetings. Her background as a diplomat and Russian translator enables her to connect with elected officials and nonprofit board directors and give them the tools they need for success. She is the author of Mastering Council Meetings: A guidebook for elected officials and local governments.