Lawyer Type

Adobe Caslon “a”

Typography is one of my fascinations. Tiny adjustments to the height of ascenders, to the contours of the very thin lines, to the flares that finish off the ends of strokes — all can affect our reading in ways that are too subtle to be noticed by the ordinary eye. Ever since the invention of movable type, there have been people — typographers — who worried about how to make these minature (minuscule!) moves, how best, in effect, to make reading as effortless and as enjoyable an experience as possible.

But this subtlety has a price. Most people never give typography a thought even when they take on the role of printer/publisher. And when it does become a focus, we tend to thrash about in unsuitable ways (as, for example, with Comic Sans) to give effect to what we want to achieve. Lawyers are no exception. Why should they be? Cathected as they are to the meaning that they hope lies on the other side of their words, they push past the means-whereby something like a martial artist aiming for a point beyond the board to be split.

But a beautiful document is a readable document, one that pleases if only subliminally and then gets out of the way with grace. And a readable document is, well, one that actually gets read. Enter the typographer.

Matthew Butterick is a lawyer — but was a typographer. He has created a website that aims at helping lawyers do a better job of making their documents readable. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the design of his site is itself one of the most interesting — and simple — site designs I’ve come across lately.) If you do not or your firm does not have a professionally crafted style that dictates which typefaces are to be used when and how to use them, read Typography for Lawyers. Butterick leads slowly up to the question of picking a font, tackling first the basics in typography, such as: when, if ever, to underline; whether there should be one or two spaces between sentences; using curly quotes instead prime marks; and whether all capitals is ever useful.

In case you suspect that Butterick is alone in caring about such things, take a look at Ken Adams’ blog, AdamsDrafting, under the typography category, particularly the entry “It’s Time for a Typeface Change.”

Although at the end of the day Butterick leaves the choice of font to us, he suspects, rightly, that we wouldn’t mind some direction. And so he offers us examples of some of his favourite typefaces along with explanations of what it is he likes about them. But there is truly no need to adopt his choices: professional typographers, though fewer in number than professional lawyers, can be found pretty much everywhere and at the other end of a telephone line. Consult one to choose your typefaces: you owe it to yourself, which is to say, to your clients, to put your best face forward — once you’ve found out what it is.


  1. If you haven’t already, you must check out Helvetica:
    “a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture”
    I believe Mac users will find that Helvetica is the default font?