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September 30, 2010
On the Virtues of Good Typography: Butterick's Typography for Lawyers is the first guide aimed specifically at lawyers (and legal writing profs and law students!)
How many readers remember Robin Williams' The Mac is Not a Typewriter, 1st ed. (1991)? Winner of the 1991 Benjamin Franklin Award in the Computer Book Category, this little book was a style manual showing Mac users how to produce professional quality manuscripts. It was aimed at desktop publishers but also any Mac user seeking a polished look for the documents he or she was creating. What was the first thing I learned from the book? Eliminate double spaces between sentences.
Typography is always important because presentation is always important. Just like a gesture can punctuate a point in court, good typography can reinforce the meaning of your text. Good typography helps your reader move beyond your words and into your meaning. Conversely, bad typography can mislead your reader and undermine your meaning.
Another snip on why typography is important for lawyers:
[O]n a day that you have to finish an important court filing, do you do any of the following things to your document before you file it with the court?
- Convert straight quotes to curly quotes
- Remove double spaces between sentences
- Insert nonbreaking spaces where appropriate
- Insert small caps
- Check hyphenation
If you’re like most lawyers, you do none of these things. But why not?
... When you show up to make an oral argument, you make sure that you present yourself as professionally and persuasively as possible. Similarly, your written documents should reflect the same level of attention to typography.
"Modern law offices have the same document-production capabilities as professional printing shops of not so long ago. But most legal documents -- letters, memos, agreements, court filings -- remain stuck in the outdated habits of the typewriter era," writes Butterick. That for me echoes back almost 20 years to Williams' The Mac is Not a Typewriter. Butterick, by the way, is one of the few typographers-turned-attorneys in the US. Before becoming a lawyer, he earned a degree in art from Harvard, focusing on graphic design and typography. After college, he worked as a digital font designer.
How This Typographer-Turned-Attorney Spent His Summer. Over the summer Butterick turned his website into a book. His Typography for Lawyers: Essential Tools for Polished & Persuasive Documents will be available from Jones McClure Publishing in November 2010. You can pre-order a copy now from the above link or on Amazon. (Note to FTC, no review copy provided). Not only will it be useful for the practitioner, it is highly recommended to get this book into the hands of legal writing profs and students. Only costs $25 (and don't you like a publisher who doesn't price a title at $24.99!).
Here's an illustration why the work should be acquired by way of Typographer at Law: An Interview with Matthew Butterick (AIGA March 17, 2010):
When you were doing your law studies, did you ever bring your typographic concerns to the bench? And if so, how were they received?
Butterick: I did use Stempel Garamond or something for my first paper in my legal-writing class. The professor said, “Next time, use Courier.” “Why?” “Because that’s how we do it.” “But lawyers don’t have to use Courier.” “Well, that’s how we do it.” And so on. Giving professors a hard time is a favorite pastime of law students. You learn quickly that the professors are immune to it.
I’ve gotten mail from young lawyers asking, “I just started working at a law firm. How do I make the managing partner adopt everything on your site?” I say, you don’t—you do your job. You apply the techniques to your own work where you can. Sooner or later people will say, “Hey, why do your documents look better?” That’s how you win.
From the product description for Typography for Lawyers: Essential Tools for Polished & Persuasive Documents:
Typography for Lawyers is the first guide to the essentials of typography aimed specifically at lawyers. Author Matthew Butterick, a Harvard-trained typographer and practicing attorney, dispels the myth that legal documents are incompatible with excellent typography. Butterick explains how to get professional results with the tools you already have — quickly and easily. Topics include special keyboard characters, line length, point size, font choice, headings, and hyphenation. The book also includes tutorials on specific types of documents like résumés, research memos, and motions.
I am curious whether you think this book would be useful for lawyers who do not litigate. I'm a public interest attorney and primarily work in direct services and policy advocacy. Do you think the book is worth getting when I primarily draft correspondence and policy, rather than briefs and other court documents?
Posted by: B.R. | Dec 22, 2010 9:58:35 AM
And if you're really concerned about good typography, use WordPerfect to prepare your documents, not Word. With all of its programs, Microsoft OVERCONTROLS how the user does his or her work.
Posted by: John Hightower | Sep 30, 2010 6:30:39 AM