Typography for the Modern Lawyer

Many attorneys are sticklers for typography. This is understandable, as a lawyer’s craft involves consuming and preparing massive amounts of text. As law firms and courts increase their reliance on digitized text, some of the more traditional typographical and style conventions to which many experienced lawyers have grown accustomed are on their way out of fashion. This article discusses the most important dos-and-don’ts regarding legal typography for the modern attorney.

No Monospaced Fonts

Many “traditional” typographical conventions resulted from attorneys learning to type on typewriters. Typewriters used monospace fonts – that is, each letter was generated with a metal stamp with uniform width across all characters. However, today’s computers utilize proportional fonts that vary in character width.

The most frequently used monospaced fonts in legal and government work are “Courier” and “Monaco.” “Times New Roman” is a proportional font commonly used throughout the legal profession.

Single-Spacing Punctuation

Because typewriters used monospaced type, typists included a double-space after the period at the end of a sentence. With the advent of proportional fonts, using more than one space after punctuation became what is now considered an obsolete habit leftover from the typewriter days.

Emphasize with Bold or Italic Type

Another vestige from the typewriter days involves using underlining to emphasize text. This was a child of necessity because bold or italic typeface was nonexistent for typewriters. While underlining is tolerable for headings, its appearance in the body of text is disruptive to the reader’s eye.

Avoid Superscripted Ordinals

The use of superscripted ordinals is considered a forbidden practice for most legal practitioners. When used in printed pleadings or briefs, superscripted numbers are virtually imperceptible to the human eye. Their legibility is often at the mercy of the capabilities of the attorney’s home or office printer. Furthermore, the Bluebook citation guide, and other citation authorities, expressly prohibit using superscripted ordinals (See, e.g., Bluebook rule 6.2(b)(i)). Unfortunately Microsoft Word automatically converts certain numbers into superscripted ordinals by default. However, this can be changed in the software’s settings.

Replace Straight Quotes with Smart Quotes

Unless used as a symbol indicating feet and inches, legal documents should avoid using straight quotes – another invention of necessity from the typewriter days. Luckily, Microsoft Word automatically converts straight quotes into smart quotes.

True Double Line Spacing for Briefs

Most courts require briefs to use double-spaced lines of text. For example, the New York State Appellate Division’s Rules of Procedure require double-spaced lines with 1-inch margins. 22 NYCRR § 670.10.3(c). Furthermore, appellate briefs must include a certificate of compliance regarding the formatting requirements outlined in the Rules of Procedure. 22 NYCRR § 670.10.3(f).

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