Font Advice

I received an inquiry from a reader the other day asking about fonts--a perfect excuse for another a nerd-er-rific post on fonts and typography. He wrote:

Dear Appellate Record:

I continue to enjoy reading your blog. One question: What font do you prefer for your appellate briefs? Do you use a different font for trial court filings?


The Fonts of San Francisco

Providing advice on font choice is a grave responsibility for a blogger. Being a font role model is even more daunting. But we here at the Appellate Record will not shirk.

To whom much has been given, much shall be required.

After the jump, the fonts we use and why.

So you want to choose a font.

Congratulations. You have taken the first step.

No longer will you allow software engineers at Microsoft decide what your brief looks like. No longer will you be defaulting to their . . . uhm . . . defaults.

You wouldn't let someone with a pocket protector choose the suit you wear to oral argument. Why would you let them choose how your brief looks?

So now what? How do you choose a font? The answer to that question is a combination of what the court requires, what the court allows, how the font was designed, and only a little bit of personal taste.

Just a couple of weeks ago I encountered a state supreme court that still has a requirement for electronic copies on a 3.5 inch floppy disk in its rules. Similarly backward, there are some courts that actually require briefs in Courier font (*wretch*) or Times New Roman, which is a horrible choice for briefing.

If the court allows you to choose a font so long as you comply with a font size requirement, think about what you are using the font for. For briefs--whether in the trial court or the court of appeals--you are writing with a relatively long line length, more like a book than a newspaper. So choose a font that is designed for books, not a font designed for the narrow columns of a newspaper like Times New Roman.

If you don't believe me believe the Seventh Circuit. Their website guide to briefing says:

Typographic decisions should be made for a purpose. The Times of London
chose the typeface Times New Roman to serve an audience looking for a
quick read. Lawyers don’t want their audience to read fast and throw the
document away; they want to maximize retention. Achieving that goal requires
a different approach—different typefaces, different column widths, different
writing conventions. Briefs are like books rather than newspapers. The
most important piece of advice we can offer is this: read some good books and
try to make your briefs more like them.

* * *

Use typefaces that were designed for books. Both the Supreme Court and
the Solicitor General use Century. Professional typographers set books in
New Baskerville, Book Antiqua, Calisto, Century, Century Schoolbook,
Bookman Old Style and many other proportionally spaced serif faces. Any
face with the word “book” in its name is likely to be good for legal work.
Baskerville, Bembo, Caslon, Deepdene, Galliard, Jenson, Minion, Palatino,
Pontifex, Stone Serif, Trump Mediäval, and Utopia are among other faces designed
for use in books and thus suitable for brief-length presentations.

 For body text, this usually means I use Book Antiqua or Century Schoolbook. Both are very clear, readable, graceful, and don't call attention to themselves as being quirky. If I have my 'druthers, I like to use Century Schoolbook, but not everyone has that on their machines. So when I collaborate outside the firm, Book Antiqua is a safer choice.

Of course, I use a different font altogether for headings. But that's a post for another day.

Hope that answers the question, and thanks for reading.

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Comments (3) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Ron Kovach - October 9, 2012 2:37 PM

Presentation goes a long way thanks for your work.

Catherine - November 6, 2012 11:13 AM

On using different fonts in headers: I tried it when I was at the Justice Department. I was told never to try such a thing again because the higher-ups couldn't countenance such radicalism. (No one disputed that the text looked better.) I realize the government will be the last to embrace the concept, but how would you make the case that using a different font for headers will not end Life as We Know It?

Kendall - November 6, 2012 11:20 AM

Catherine, I use two things to argue in favor of my radicalism:

First, there is some research showing sans serif fonts read moderately better in headings. Check out painting with print.

Second, common sense. There is a reason why street signs and freeway signs and other short bursts of declarative information are in sans serif fonts. Legibility. Text must be readable, but headings and headlines must be legible and quickly absorbed. Mimic a freeway sign.

Thanks for reading.

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