March 14, 2016
Typography & Fonts
About a year ago, I bought a book that had been highly recommended to me: Typography for Lawyers by Matthew Butterick (its less than $25 on Amazon), a trained typographer and California attorney. He operates two websites—Typography for Lawyers and Practical Typography—and I highly recommend a visit to either site.
Although I bought this highly recommended book, it took me a couple of months to begin reading, because it is about typography and typography didn’t strike me as the most engaging subject in the world. But I regret not reading it sooner because it was engaging, enlightening, and has made me think about the design of my documents, emails, and presentations ever since.
The book contains a lot of insight that sounds obvious once you’ve read it. But the central point of the book is that we should design the things we are writing in a way that keeps the audience engaged and attentive. And by “design,” I mean more than that the text should be well-written; rather, I mean that the layout of the document should enhance the content. There are lots of ways of accomplishing this task: letter spacing, line spacing, line length, point size, etc. But the one we will be discussing today is the one that we notice most often—the font.
Butterick is not a fan of the fonts that most lawyers use—Times New Roman—describing it as “gaz[ing] into the void” because it is “the absence of a font choice,” which “connotes apathy.” Likewise, the Seventh Circuit’s Requirements and Suggestions for Typography in Briefs and Other Papers strongly suggests that briefs be written in a font other than Times New Roman.
My firm has begun to coalesce around an alternative that is built into Microsoft Word, Century Schoolbook, for documents to be filed in court, but this isn’t the right choice for all purposes. For example, you may want to use something different in a presentation or client letter, and you may not see what you are looking for in the fonts that came with your computer. I have a solution.
First, you can do what Butterick recommends—buy a font designed for attorneys. There are many different online companies that sell fonts; Adobe Type, MyFonts, Linotype, and Fonthaus are just a few. But there are also free options for those of us who may not want to invest money in a font. For example, Google gives away hundreds of fonts away for free at www.google.com/fonts. I’ve used fonts from Google in my presentations (for example, I used Cantarell in a recent CLE presentation), and found them easy to install and use. Other sites that give away free fonts are Font Squirrel, 1001 Free Fonts, and Dafont. All of these paid and free websites allow you to sort through their options in a variety of ways so that you can find the font that you want to use for a particular purpose.
My takeaways here are simple: 1) buy AND read Butterick’s book, and 2) take the time to find the right font for the written product you are producing.