Typography for lawyers

Home/Plain Language/Typography for lawyers

I bought a new book called Typography for Lawyers, by Matthew Butterick. I just started reading it on the plane and I think it is brilliant. I could not put it down and before I knew it the plane had landed. Some people will find that sad I’m sure. The humor in the book is really funny. And the foreword by Brian Garner is brilliant – he gives some stories of the typical conversations that lawyers have. Spot on.

Here are my thoughts on some of the interesting points he makes. I must say I now realize I have been guilty of breaking some of the rules for many years.

I agree with him that typography for legal documents is important. Imagine you are presenting to the board. What you have to say is spot on, but you’re wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Typography for the written word is what dress is for the spoken word. Lawyers are essentially publishers and therefore typography matters.

It is important to write for the reader. The reader’s attention is the most valuable resource a writer has. Every writer wants the readers attention and to get the message across. If typography helps with that, then typography is important. I want people to enjoy reading what I write and understand what I am saying. There is no point giving written guidance if no-one can understand it.

Point size should be between 10 and 12. I often use 8. I’m going to have to think about this in the context of the plain language requirements of the Consumer Protection Act. Butterick has some interesting points, but he says, “I don’t want to encourage the fine print abusers out there. You know who you are.” You see, the book is funny.

Never underline. I stopped doing that years ago, but many still do it.

Put only one space between sentences. I have put two (and sometimes three) for years because I thought it was easier to read. He has convinced me to only put one.

Use bold or italics, but never both. I’m guilty of doing this. He calls people like me an “overemphasizer”.

He makes lots of interesting points about fonts. One that stood out for me is that only people who do not care about topography use Arial. I have often (I should say mostly) used Arial in the past.

I promise from now on to follow these rules when writing legal documents. It will make me a better writer and lawyer. And add value to my clients.

By | 2017-03-30T13:22:26+00:00 January 25th, 2011|Categories: Plain Language|