Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

Does my font choice matter?

According to a recently published column by a North Carolina judge and several litigators, yes, it very well may impact how your brief is read and retained.

The authors begin by explaining the current font status quo, focusing on their home state of North Carolina.  The status quo is that lawyers prefer Times New Roman, a font designed by a London newspaper to facilitate skimming--not something that you want a judge to do to your brief.  As the authors explain,

Today, for whatever reason, Times New Roman has become the standard, including for North Carolina lawyers. As one commentator has remarked, Times New Roman is “the font of least resistance.”  It “is not a font choice so much as the absence of a font choice.” It is the beige of fonts.

On the other side of the font spectrum is Courier New, another common lawyer font.  Courier New was designed with typewriters in mind--its non-proportional format makes it easy to white out one letter in a document and replace it with any other letter, since all letters in Courier New take up the same amount of space.  The problem with Courier New (other than the fact that it is just ugly) is that it takes up a lot of space.  It is also harder to read. As the authors explain, "'[w]hen every character is the same width, the eye loses valuable clues that help it distinguish one letter from another.'"

So what is the solution?  Well, the authors suggest that you think about using fonts in the Century family.  As they explain,

Among its attractive features, Century Schoolbook is “highly readable, yet commands an air of authority with letters that take up more space than Times New Roman.” It has even been called the “crème-de-la-crème of legal fonts.”

The United States Supreme Court publishes its opinions in Century Schoolbook, and several other federal courts endorse the use of Century fonts.  The Seventh Circuit, for example, has posted on its website a six page document entitled "Requirements and suggestions for typography in briefs and other papers" in which they endorse proportionally spaced fonts designed for books, such as Century and Book Antiqua (the go-to font for this blog).

By switching to Century fonts, the authors claim that writers can save money. They cite an NPR report that "when a major university recently switched its e-mail system’s default font from Arial to Century, it saved thousands of dollars annually in printing costs." The authors also claim that switching fonts can help with "readability and retention."  We don't want our briefs to be skimmed. We want them to be savored, studied, and retained.

The authors have convinced me.  I plan on changing my syllabus to require Century fonts.  Perhaps more courts will follow this advice too.

| Permalink


Matthew Butterick has a guide on typography, as well as selling two typefaces designed for lawyers.
His site is and I have found his guides to be simple and to the point

Posted by: D | Nov 2, 2017 2:14:12 PM

Great post--and a very important topic actually! Typography has real impacts on readability. I have to say, my vote is for Garamond (Bryan Garner's pick) or Book Antiqua (a favorite of some SCOTUS regulars). I think Brian Garner actually wrote a book on typography for lawyers, if memory serves. Thanks for the post!

Posted by: joe Regalia | Nov 6, 2017 5:40:00 PM

I tried Book Antiqua, Century and Century 725 and compared them to Times New Roman. TNR is more compact but they seem the same in readability to me.

Posted by: Ronald J Cappuccio | Nov 22, 2017 10:05:52 AM

Post a comment