Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Font of Wisdom

2000px-CambriaSpecimen (3)

Spring cleaning time is almost here. If you’re tidying up and rearranging your furniture, why not also consider updating your document design, too? While some courts do mandate a particular font or two in their local rules, most do not, and the FRCPs and FRAPs still leave a sensible choice up to the author’s discretion.  The general wisdom remains that readers tend to find a serif font (the kind with little feet and tails, like Times New Roman) easier to read in print, and a sans-serif font like Arial easier on a computer screen. It may be difficult to decide which to use in the case of electronic filing, particularly with appellate panels where judges vary in their online vs. print reading preferences.

As for style, a few searches online yield a variety of opinions about which fonts of each type are “best.” As with all thing involving design, fonts are even subject to fads and fashions, and it’s important to make conservative choices for legal writing. For example, Cambria and Georgia are two popular serif fonts that seem to hold up over time. Finally, while the judicial reader will appreciate true brevity over space-saving “tricks,” the writer can look for space saving fonts in their “condensed” forms.

Further reading:

A summary of court typography rules, see:

A helpful blog post on the best fonts for printed documents (as opposed to those read online):

An interesting discussion board thread about space-saving fonts:

For those wishing to dive further down the rabbit hole, see Matthew Butterick’s highly lauded tome, Typography for Lawyers (there you can also find examples of Equity, his font designed for lawyers):

Image credit: Sun Ladder (Own work) [Public domain, CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

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It is interesting that this article,written for online viewing, uses a serif font even though the article says that sans serif fonts are easier to read on a computer.

Posted by: Curt Nesset | Mar 11, 2014 6:44:33 AM

Thanks for your comment; I noticed that as well (the font was chosen long before thru research for this post and we use a uniform font). We may need a change. It just shows that style doesn't always correspond with readability.

Posted by: Tonya Kowalski | Mar 13, 2014 2:09:10 AM

Sorry: "the research" (typing on the run)

Posted by: Tonya Kowalski | Mar 13, 2014 2:10:27 AM

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