I recently finished reading Typography for Lawyers by Matthew Butterick. The book’s byline describes it as “essential tools for polished & persuasive documents. I agree.

// // What is typography? Basically typography is how a document looks. Lawyers and judges think about typography all the time. Ever said: “this brief looks like crap”? If so, you are talking about typography. This is the first book on typography specifically for lawyers.

Butterick explains that good typography helps the reader. Bad typography is harder to read and more likely to lose the attention of the reader—think judge.

In a mere 216 pages Butterick explains how to implement good typography into your practice. The book tackles letterhead, business cards and motions. It also gives step-by-step instructions on how to implement the advice in both Word and Wordperfect.

As expected, the book also discussed fonts. Butterick hates Arial and also frowns on the commonly used font of Times New Roman. Before even finishing the book, I changed my font in letters and briefs from Times New Roman, which Butterick says “connotes apathy.” I now use Franklin Gothic Medium.

As of this writing, the book has 14 customer reviews on Amazon. All 14 rate the book as a 5, on a scale of 1–5. Reviewers describe the book as indispensable and something that should be on every lawyer’s desk.

I suspect that five years from now this book will be on the desk of most young lawyers. If I were managing a law firm, I would give a copy to all entering first year associates and order them to read and implement the book.

For older lawyers, reading this book should be a badge of honor. If you care enough about your skills to read a book on typography, you must be a serious lawyer.

Or a total law-goob. One of the two for sure.

In all seriousness, I am glad that I found this book and recommend it for all serious lawyers. It would also be a good idea to ask your staff member who formats your documents to read it as well.

  • Jane

    Some years ago, I read a blog by a lawyer who highly recommended some font that wasn’t one of the ones you usually get with Word or WordPerfect. I remember it being a very nice font but don’t remember the name only that it had serifs. I’m somewhat surprised at the rec. for Franklin Gothic. Conventional wisdom is that a sans serif type is more difficult to read than ones with serifs. Of course, it’s been a while since I’ve read anything on the topic (but in high school and college I worked on the school newspapers and was fascinated by fonts).

  • Jane

    I should have added that I’m so particular about fonts that even though I’m a compulsive reader, I won’t buy a book if I dislike the font or the margins. I also won’t purchase books when the font is too big despite the fact I’m at the age where I require reading glasses.

  • Interesting review. I’ve linked it to my readers. Got me thinking about fonts.

  • Anderson

    A shorter reference is the 7th Circuit’s guide to typography in briefs (PDF). Very worthwhile.
    I understand the arguments vs. Times New Roman, but when it’s so common, I sometimes fear that by using a different font, I’m asking the court to look at my font, not my argument.
    Typography is like dressing for court: one wishes to avoid being gauche without distracting from the merits.
    … I just put a pleading into Franklin Goth Med. If you use that, Philip, I would suggest not using less than 13-pt size. It made a huge difference for me as to readability.
    (Which raises the question, WHEN will the MSSC switch to word-count on briefs instead of page-count?)

  • Jane

    Here’s the blog I remember and it suggests Century Schoolbook as, apparently, does the 7th Circuit.
    I still think using a sans serif type for the body of a brief is a big mistake.

  • Jane

    The typeface that some lawyer was praising so highly was the Century Schoolbook family of fonts. The 7th Circuit’s guide mentions it. Apparently, the 7th Circuit disallows sans serif types except in headings or the like. I would really look into this more before using sans serif types for the body of briefs and motions.

  • Anderson

    Century or Century Schoolbook is what the U.S. Reports are printed in, IIRC.

  • Christopher

    Thanks for bringing this up. Typography is a big deal to me and I’m glad to see other lawyers getting interested. What would really tickle me would be if someone would release LaTeX templates and definitions for standard court pleadings.

  • Jane

    Well, this is what Butterick has to say about sans serif fonts:
    Sans serif fonts. Sans serif is not a spe­cific font but a large cat­e­gory of fonts that don’t have ser­ifs. Ser­ifs are the lit­tle “feet” that pro­trude from the ends of char­ac­ters in text fonts. Hel­vetica and Gill Sans are com­mon sans serif fonts. Sans serif fonts look less tra­di­tional than serif fonts and most people—me included—find them tir­ing to read in long doc­u­ments. (That’s why so few books, news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines use sans serif fonts for body text.) Even if your local court rules allow you to use a sans serif font, I don’t rec­om­mend it. Font sam­ple. (P.S. Sans serif fonts are also harder to OCR accu­rately.)

  • Could not put this page turner down. I agree with Anderson, and do not have current plans to move on from Times New Roman. But I did mostly change from Arial on my website, and I have changed some of the other formatting features of my documents based on advice from the book. The book is a great reference.
    I used to work with a lawyer that said “Put ours in Courier, that way it will look different.” Yes, it did.

  • Anderson

    I played around with an interloc petition today, and tried CG Times instead of Times NR. Didn’t look weird but it was a bit more spacious on the page. I may start using it.
    Note that, as Jane seems to’ve found, Butterick has a website with much of interest. I learned about a “hard space.”

  • Will

    Minion Pro and Caslon Normal (fonts Butterick spoke of favorably) can both be found online and downloaded for free. Several of the fonts he recommends you would need to purchase. Most go for around $30.
    It is relatively easy to add fonts, just open your control panel, go to appearance and personalization, and you should be able to find a fonts folder. Drag and drop the downloaded font to the folder.

  • Anderson

    Thanks, Will!

  • Philip Thomas

    A brief with the headings in Franklin Gothic Medium with the text in Century Schoolbook looks really nice.