Typography for Lawyers

I’ve been enjoying the site Typography for Lawyers from Matthew Butterick.

Open Law Lab - Typography for Lawyers

He makes some effective arguments as to why Typography is more than just font choice — why it is a design choice that will affect how a lawyer’s audience will react to the text itself.

Why does typography matter?

Typog­ra­phy mat­ters because it helps con­serve the most valu­able resource you have as a writer — reader atten­tion.

Writ­ing as if you have unlim­ited reader atten­tion is pre­sump­tu­ous because read­ers are not doing you a per­sonal favor. Read­ing your writ­ing is not their hobby. It’s their job. And their job involves pay­ing atten­tion to lots of other writ­ing. The judge has not set aside your motion for sum­mary judg­ment so she can savor it dur­ing her upcom­ing vaca­tion to Maui. More likely, it is just one item in a queue of hun­dreds, all of which require her atten­tion.

I’ll even go one bet­ter: I believe that most read­ers are look­ing for rea­sons to stop read­ing. Not because they’re mali­cious or aloof. They’re just being ratio­nal. If read­ers have other demands on their time, why should they pay any more atten­tion than they absolutely must? Read­ers are always look­ing for the exit.

Con­sider an oral argu­ment in court. By the day of the hear­ing, you’ll have spent a lot of time hon­ing the struc­ture and sub­stance of your argu­ment.

But do you show up to court in jeans and sneak­ers? No, of course not. You wear proper court attire.

And when you speak to the judge, do you slouch at the lectern, eyes cast down­ward, and read from a script in a monot­one? No, of course not. You change the speed and vol­ume of your deliv­ery. You ges­ture. You extem­po­rize.

You do these things because you don’t merely want to be heard —
you want to per­suade. To per­suade, you need to hold the judge’s atten­tion. And to hold that atten­tion, you can­not under­mine your argu­ment with dis­trac­tions.

It’s the same on the printed page. The text mat­ters, but if that’s all that mat­tered, then every­thing could be set in 12-point Times New Roman. And that would be the equiv­a­lent of star­ing at the lectern. In the same way that good speak­ing skills mat­ter dur­ing an oral argu­ment, good typog­ra­phy mat­ters in a writ­ten doc­u­ment.

“But I don’t have visual skills. I don’t know any­thing about graphic design.” That’s like say­ing you can’t dress prop­erly for court because you don’t know any­thing about fash­ion design. Com­pared to study­ing for the bar exam, it’s easy to learn the skills nec­es­sary for pro­duc­ing good typog­ra­phy.

Butterick’s First Law of Typog­ra­phy

Given mul­ti­ple doc­u­ments, read­ers will make more judg­ments based on typog­ra­phy as they find it harder to make judg­ments based on sub­stance.

Butterick’s Sec­ond Law of Typog­ra­phy

Judg­ments based on sub­stance require reader atten­tion, so under the First Law, read­ers with lim­ited atten­tion are more likely to make judg­ments based on typog­ra­phy.

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