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Second Edition of Typography for Lawyers Should Be on Every Lawyer’s Bookshelf

Typography for LawyersIf you’re not a legal-writing nerd like me, you may be skeptical about whether good typography really has any effect on the persuasiveness of a brief. After all, I’m sure you’ve received at least one decision that made you wonder if the judge even saw your brief, much less read it. But, as Matthew Butterick explains in the upcoming second edition of Typography for Lawyers:

[t]ypog­ra­phy mat­ters because it helps con­serve the most valu­able resource you have as a writer—reader atten­tion.

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Good typography can help your reader devote less attention to the mechanics of reading and more attention to your message. Conversely, bad typography can distract your reader and undermine your message.

Of course, as Butterick concedes, content is still king: good typography won’t rescue a poorly-written brief. But just because typography isn’t the most important tool of persuasion doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Instead, why not use every tool in your toolbox—grammar, word choice, argument structure and, yes, typography—to effectively make your point?

Legal-writing experts universally praised the first edition of Typography for Lawyers, which came out in 2010. No less an authority than Bryan Garner wrote the book’s foreward. Writing about the first edition in my law firm newsletter in 2011, I said:

Typography for Lawyers is an eminently practical how-to manual. Major sections of the book address type composition; text formatting; and page layout. Subtopics are helpfully grouped into basic and advanced concepts. The book is rounded out with charts (a type composition reference featuring the codes or keystrokes that will produce various types of punctuation and symbols in Windows, Mac and HTML); tables (a one-page summary of key rules); font samples; sample documents; a brief history of Times New Roman; and an appendix that addresses, among other things, how to interpret court rules. Butterick even provides detailed instructions for how to control type composition, text formatting and page layout in WordPerfect, Word and Pages (for Mac).

Like many other serious legal writers, after reading the first edition I overhauled my default document template to incorporate Butterick’s advice.

Since Lawyerist recently updated an earlier 10 Takeaways from Typography for Lawyers post, I’ll refer you there for a good summary of Butterick’s most important advice, which remains the same in the second edition as in the first. Here’s what’s new in the second edition:

  • additional sample documents (grids of numbers, presentations, contracts and court opinions)
  • new essays on screen-reading considerations (a topic that holds a lot of interest for me), font copyrights and typographic disputes that have reached the courts
  • new topics (email, footnotes, alternate figures and OpenType features)
  • technical tips for applying the book’s advice in the newest versions of Word and WordPerfect
  • new font recommendations (in both the table of acceptable system fonts and the table of recommended substitutions for common fonts)

For me, the new sample documents are most valuable addition to the second edition. Some of the advice about presentations is somewhat counterintuitive (if your presentation will be viewed in a dark room, use a black background and a thin sans serif font that’s significantly gray, not a white background with black text); other advice seems obvious, once you think about it (pick a base point size that lets you put 12–15 lines on a slide—even though you’ll never have that much text on a slide—and, as much as possible, use the same point size on every slide, even if there’s only one line of text on screen). The sample contract will be as valuable to transactional lawyers as the sample caption and motion (introduced in the first edition) are to litigators.

I think the least valuable additions are the sections on alternate figures (numbers with different typographic characteristics, designed to be used in different typographic contexts) and OpenType features (which include alternate figures, small caps, ligatures and ordinals). These topics are just too “inside typography,” even for me.

Omitted from the second edition are sections on question marks and exclamation points; semicolons and colons; parentheses, brackets and braces; and nonbreaking hyphens. I suspect Butterick decided to drop the first three because they involve usage as opposed to typography; I’m not sure why he dropped the fourth, though. The second edition also no longer explains how to apply the book’s advice in Pages for Mac.

Reading through the second edition has brought to my attention a few pieces of advice from the first edition that I overlooked, but plan to follow in the future. First, Butterick advises omitting cell borders in many tables (especially in tables with many small cells) because they make the table grid look cluttered. (You are using tables instead of tabs to present tabular data, aren’t you?) Second, Butterick advises using a nonbreaking space after the § and ¶ symbols to keep the symbol joined to the number that follows (I’ve been solving that problem by omitting the space between the symbol and the number).

Talking about symbols, here’s a tip from me: to make it easier to insert the § and ¶ symbols (and other common ones, such as the em-dash (—) and the en-dash (–)) when you’re writing, use custom keyboard shortcuts. I use ALT+CTRL+P for ¶; ALT+CTRL+S for §; ALT+CTRL+hyphen for the em-dash; and CTRL+hyphen for the en-dash. Don’t know your em-dash from your en-dash from your hyphen? Don’t worry, Butterick’s got you covered on that as well.

The second edition of Typography for Lawyers will officially go on sale on November 2 at and on Amazon.

Comments (1)

  1. Reply Kenneth L. Kunkle

    Nice tip on concerning the nonbreaking space and symbols and the custom keyboard shhortcuts, as a trademark attorney I am always fidgeting around for for (R) and superscript TM.

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