Until this point, my decisions on typography have been limited by three factors: (1) the forms that have been passed down through generations of lawyers (we all use samples); (2) the habits ingrained in me by the personal preferences of schoolteachers of years past; and (3) what “felt” right. Of the three, I have come to learn, the most useful is probably my own preferences, contaminated though they might be because of the first two factors.
Why should lawyers care? Like it or not, we are wordsmiths. Like it or not, we are publishers. Like it or not, our job is to communicate clearly and, oftentimes, to persuade. Typography will not communicate or persuade, but good typography can make a reader’s job easier. Whether our audience is a trial judge, panel of appellate judges, client or opposing counsel, the format of the written word must not stand in the way of the substance.
I always thought I had some typography know-how. I’ve read Edward Johnston, and for years I have absolutely refused to use Times New Roman, favoring Book Antiqua as my font of choice. My formal introduction to legal typography came recently through Matthew Butterick’s book, Typography for Lawyers, which I downloaded to my iPad. I read about the traditionally low tech of typography on the high tech of an electronic book. Butterick explained to me that I have so much room to grow, and I recommend his book to you.
One cautionary note—there are few bright-line rules in typography. Much is dependent on the comfort level of the author, and the needs of the expected audience. Even typography’s best practices are situational. Most of Butterick’s suggestions are discreet, but a few can cause radical changes in the look of pleadings. It is up to you to decide whether a level of conformity outweighs readability. That said, clinging to “traditional” ways of doing things is simply a means to foster mediocrity. In legal writing, the only rules are those imposed by courts.
Court Rules on Typography
Most courts have rules about the form of pleadings. These rules, regardless of whether there is a better way, should be slavishly followed. Failure to do so can lead to the rejection of filings or the ire of judges. Below is a short summary of the major courts encountered by MAJ members:
Maryland State Courts
- Except as otherwise provided, filed papers shall be 8.5 inches by 11 inches, with minimum top and left margins of 1.5 inches. (Your Microsoft Word defaults are one inch margins on all sides. If you haven’t changed them, you are in violation of court rules.)
- Writing shall be legible
Maryland Court of Appeals and Court of Special Appeals
- Type: proportionally-spaced fonts
- Type size: minimum of 13 points
- Fonts approved: Antique Olive, Arial, Arial Rounded, Book Antiqua, Bookman Old Style, Britannic, Century Gothic, Century Schoolbook, CG Times, Courier, Courier New, Footlight MT Light, Letter Gothic, MS LineDraw, Times New Roman, Universal
- Horizontal scaling (character width): may not be changed from word processing defaults
- Spacing: minimum of 1.5 spacing between lines, except for headings, indented quotations and footnotes (which may be single-spaced)
- Kerning (spacing between specific letter combinations): may not be altered from word processing defaults to reduce the spacing between characters or to increase the number of characters per line
- Margins: minimum of 1 inch at top and bottom (except page numbers may be within the bottom 1 inch); line length shall not exceed 6.5 inches
U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland
- All documents shall be legible
- Margins: top margin at least 1.5 inches; left margin of 1 inch; right margin of 0.5 inches
- Spacing: double-spaced except for quotations and footnotes
United States Supreme Court
- Font: Century family (e.g. Century Expanded, New Century Schoolbook, Century Schoolbook)
- Font size: 12 point
- Line spacing (vertical space between lines): 2 points or more leading between lines (meaning 14 total points of space between lines)
- Quotations: over 50 words shall be indented
- Footnotes: 10 points or larger, with 2 points or more leading between lines
- Margins: minimum of 0.75 inches on each side
- Text field (including footnotes): approximately 4-1/8 inches by 7-1/8 inches
This post is Part I of LegalTech's 2-part series on typography. Read Part II here.
About the Author
John J. Cord (John Cord Law, LLC) graduated from the University of Colorado School of Law. He concentrates his practice on automobile negligence, medical malpractice and workers' compensation. He provides a wide range of technological services to law firms, including blogging and trial presentation. Find his firm on Facebook and Twitter.