This week, I received an email from Don Roch at Bowers & Roch in Canton, Georgia, in response to a post on a CLE talk I gave on typography.

He took issue with my claim that, in Georgia appellate courts, you are stuck with Courier New 12 or Times New Roman 14. Don did a “double take” because he has been using fonts other than those. He goes on to point out that you can go beyond those two suggested fonts and not run afoul of Georgia Court of Appeals Rule 1 or Georgia Supreme Court Rule 16. Technically, he is right. Both rules are concerned with type size. The former calls for type no smaller than “10 characters per inch.” The rule says that Times New Roman 14 is fine. While the latter calls for type no smaller than Times New Roman 14 or Courier New 12, meaning that you are safe if you use those.

Don is absolutely right.

Thanks for the “catch” Don. I did misstate the rules as being more restrictive than they are. The better way to have said it is that you know you are safe if you go with those fonts. You may choose different ones as long as your font size is otherwise in compliance.

Please, if you do, make sure that you are otherwise in compliance. Get the ruler out before you submit your filing.

If you read this blog regularly, it is no secret that I am a recent convert and evangelist for Matthew Butterick’s Typography for Lawyers. I have a long way to go in my legal writing before I reach a point of mastery, but I am happy to be paying attention. One of the chairs for the Spring Seminar of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is also an acolyte, and I was invited to speak on typography for an hour. It turns out that I spoke on a little more than typography — subtopics included the need to provide a succinct summary of the desired result, the issues on appeal, and the reasons the court should grant relief, and the need to limit the number of issues on appeal as much as possible. Most cases, after all, are about just one thing.

I was the next to last speaker on the last day. And, as passionate as I am on the topic, I feared that the topic was a bit nerdy and perhaps boring for some. I hedged my bets by putting some serious work into my presentation and the Keynote slides. Writing materials for a talk on typography is also an intimidating task. The project invites a more critical look than others might. And I put as much planning as I could into making the topic engaging.

It turns out that I was wrong to be afraid. Lawyers, even criminal defense lawyers, are a conservative lot and sometimes not good with suggestions about the need for change. And so it came to pass that I was the only speaker of the entire conference to get heckled. That’s right, in a talk on fonts and the structure of appellate briefs, given on the last day of a three day seminar in Savannah, Georgia, I had a heckler. The guy who spoke on abortion, contraception, and the right to privacy sailed right through without as much as a sigh.

I’ll add that I was thrilled to be heckled on this topic. It is heartwarming that anybody is passionate about typography to such an extent that she told me that an example brief I put on the screen “looked like [shiitake]” because I didn’t turn on full justify and that I was off my rocker for criticizing Times New Roman and Courier. I like passion, even when such passion is misplaced. I am thankful that the reception was so intense, and I also want to take a few lines to say more about these three things — justification (in a graphic design sense not in a theological sense, though I will strive to be graceful), the Courier font, and the Times New Roman font.

Full Justification is a Matter of Personal Preference

The audience member was a serious proponent of full justification, noting by way of simile, that my decision to left-align the text rendered an excrementitious product. The opinion was as wrong as it was hyperbolic. As to the hyperbole: at no point during the presentation did green flies begin to buzz about the screen where my Keynote was being projected. As to the heckler being wrong, I’ll respond here.

Butterick writes (and I defer to him because he wrote the book and because he is credentialed in this area) that “compared to left-aligned text, justification gives text a cleaner, more formal look.” He also notes that justification “alters the ideal spacing of the font, but in paragraphs of reasonable width it’s usually not distracting.”

In the end, he notes that “[j]ustification is a matter of personal preference. It is not a signifier of professional typography.” He cites as an example the fact that many newspapers mix it up.

I will add that I never endorsed either way. I just used a previous brief of mine, one where the text was left-aligned, as an example. The audience member has a strong preference for justification. She’s not wrong to have it but was wrong in the extent of her criticism of left alignment.

A Defense of Courier, Really?

I took some heat for my criticism of Courier. And I was actually quite surprised that anybody but a prosecutor or bureaucrat would feel so strongly about this font. This font served its purpose in 1955 when it was invented. The font was created for the “golfball” typing head that IBM was developing and would later premier in its 1961 Selectric Typewriter. The font, and other monospaced fonts, was created to deal with mechanical issues with the typewriter. To quote Mr. Butterick, “[monospaced fonts] were not invented to win beauty contests.”

To quote an article from Slate, “its design principles are little more than phantom limbs: Like any other typeface, it is whisked from the digital ether without regard for its original use. … What is most remarkable of all, of course, is that a typewriter font is still being used at all in the post-typewriter age.”

With the exception of Robert Caro, I do not know of anybody who still uses a typewriter. So, it really isn’t necessary to use a monospaced font.

When you use monospaced fonts, you get fewer words per page, and the font is hard to read when compared to proportional fonts. There really is no reason to use Courier unless a court rule requires it.

In 2004, Courier fell out of favor with the State Department. The preferred font is now Times New Roman 14.

It’s Time for the Decline and Fall of the (Times New) Roman Empire

The heckler also has a special place in her heart for TNR. It’s an okay font. Though its problem is its ubiquity. Using TNR is essentially not choosing a font at all. According to Mr. Butterick, the problem is the blah factor:

When Times New Roman appears in a book, a document, or advertisement, it connotes apathy. It says, “I submitted to the font of least resistance.” Times New Roman is not a font choice so much as the absence of a font choice, like the blackness of deep space is not a color. To look at Times New Roman is to gaze into the void.”

Finally, he advises, “if you have a choice about using Times New Roman, please stop. Use something else.” A person can choose Times New Roman and be passionate about it (I know one person who does and is). But that choice conveys apathy.

A Final Word

If you are in the Georgia Supreme Court or the Georgia Court of Appeals, you have little choice about your font selection. You can go with Courier New 12 and look like a prosecutor, or you can go with Times New Roman 14. At either of those courts, TNR conveys that you don’t want your appeal dismissed and that you don’t want to be sanctioned. It does not convey apathy. In client letters and in filings in other courts, you can and should (in the name of all that is holy) choose other fonts.

 

 

 

typeface.jpgDesign is an important part of brief writing. And the font and layout you choose will have an impact on how the Court receives your brief. It certainly shapes how I feel about writing the brief and submitting it. I cannot see the Courier New Font without thinking of the research, writing, and advocacy in my first year of law school. The font feels scary and oppressive and conjures up images of red ink and biting comments written in the margins. 

The people who read your briefs at the courts where you submit them are likely reading a stack of briefs that look pretty much like yours. “Oh look,” the staff attorney might be saying, “another brief in Times New Roman 14. Awesome.”

I’m guilty of going with the good old default font a good bit of the time, but I am learning to do things differently. 

Two of my favorite legal blogs have featured posts on this very topic. Over at Simple Justice, Scott Greenfield features a review of Matthew Buttrick’s Typography for Lawyers. I haven’t ordered it yet, but I likely will. One great tip that I read elsewhere is to eliminate the double space at the end of sentences. I’ve been doing that since my tenth-grade typing teacher told me to do it. I stopped after reading somewhere else that I should. That extra space is not necessary, it turns out. In fact, as I review Mr. Butterick’s book for this post, I think I’m about to order it. You probably will too if you check out the sample chapters (PDF) from his website. 

My other favorite blogger, Kendall Gray, has been writing about layout and typography at his blog, the Appellate Record.  He has written a three-part series about page layout. Part one introduces his general idea of how a brief should look. Part two focuses on the concept of proximity. His third post deals with justification (no, I have not lapsed into theological discourse. I’m talking about how the text should be aligned).

By no means do I suggest that the document’s appearance is a substitute for its substantive content. Rather, designing the brief into a document that the reader wants to read, a document that does not appear just like the other briefs the clerk is reading in that big stack, and that looks better than the one the DA is submitting, is important.

I’ve just scratched the surface on the design element. And I look forward to learning more about it. All they taught me in law school was the importance of the ugly Courier font and something mechanical about a rule proof. It does’t mean that you won’t lose to bad writing sometimes (that’s what representing the appellant in criminal cases is like sometimes). It just means that the close case might just go your way more often than it does right now.