Mastering the ancient art of typography

With the $50 Amazon gift card I got for taking an online legal survey, I bought Toddler T. a doctor play set (she is fascinated by doctors on television and demands to watch them over-and-over again), and treated myself to a hard copy of Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage and the Kindle version of Matthew Butterick’s Typography for Lawyers.

There’s something cosmically entertaining about reading a typography book through an electronic portal the likes of which Benjamin Franklin probably could not have dreamed up. But the choice between laying $25 down for the print version and $10 for the electronic version made the answer obvious.

The few days it took to read Butterick’s book (stealing pages during bathtimes, bedtimes and downtime at court), validated the purchase. This book will have a significant effect on my letters and pleadings.

Typography is essentially the entirety of visual choices made when writing words. It includes font (stop using Times New Roman), spacing between characters (stop putting two spaces after periods — a highly controversial but reasonable argument) and spacing between lines (how is double-spacing properly measured, anyway?), along with a whole host of other choices.

As Butterick explains, lawyers cannot use typography to make their arguments but they can use typography to enhance the goals of their writing. Typography can be used to help the reader comprehend the text by improving readability and maximizing the limited resource that is a reader’s attention. As lawyers, we are wordsmiths and publishers — it is imperative that we get out of the way of our own writing.

Butterick does a phenomenal job of explaining just how to do this. He offers clear insight into our available typographic choices, and where possible he explains how to make the right choice. He also identifies how to make important changes for lawyers who use Word, WordPerfect, and Mac Pages. Learn about proportional and monospaced fonts, curly quotes, line length and margins, why underlining is a bad idea, and kerning (go ahead — Google it).

You’ll read it, look up the court rules (which are surprisingly not as limiting as you might think and surprisingly contradictory — see Rule 8-112(c)(1)) and begin reformatting your templates immediately.

One thought on “Mastering the ancient art of typography

  1. As the MSBA’s Web Coordinator and a career graphic designer, I am so happy a book like this exists on such a strong personal interest. I will be giving this a read myself!

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