I like to think I know how to design a document. You won’t catch me using two spaces after a period. I don’t use all caps. And my AutoCorrect options are set to use curly quotes. So I was feeling pretty good through the first 50 pages of Typography for Lawyers: Essential Tools for Polished & Persuasive Documents by Matthew Butterick. In fact, the day it arrived in the mail, I read a just-filed brief written in Courier, with underlining. That’s not how my briefs look.
I had preordered the book, and it happened to be my road-trip reading over Thanksgiving. I wanted to knit, but a little voice in the backseat kept saying, “Mommy, hold me my hand!” You can’t knit with one arm stretched behind you. But Butterick’s book wasn’t a bad substitute. In fact, it was enjoyable. I was reading parts out loud to my husband. It was affirming. And then, somewhere along I-75, I reached the section called, “Advanced rules.” And then “kerning.” And “line spacing.” So by the time we reached I-16, I felt mildly alarmed about what I didn’t know.
Vacation is over. Now I’m working on developing customized paragraph styles—starting with one for memos and one for briefs. I’m learning a few more keyboard shortcuts, including the shortcuts for nonbreaking spaces and the apostrophe. And I’m paying attention to line spacing and line length. Microsoft Word can do more than I was giving it credit for.
So, legal writers, learn to use your tools, including your word processor. There are other good articles that provide an overview of what lawyers need to know about typography, including Gerald Lebovits’s Document Design: Pretty in Print—Parts I and II, and Ruth Anne Robbins’s Painting with print: Incorporating concepts of typographic and layout design into the text of legal writing documents. But Typography for Lawyers is the full treatment with practical advice and a good index. This book should be on every legal writer’s bookshelf, right next to your Garner books.