Monday, October 8, 2012

A Brief's Curb Appeal

In legal writing, we lawyers care little about the fonts in our brief, and write in Times New Roman for the simple reason that every teacher since grade school required it for their research papers.  When left to our discretion, and the teacher assigned a page minimum, we selected the staid, but larger Courier New font in a transparent effort to squeak past the page minimum and mask the lack of substance in our analysis.

As the old adage goes, "garbage in, garbage out."  Trained to remain indifferent to font selection, we carry that same apathy to our professional life.  This reality is a bit odd since, after all, the written word is perhaps the most important tool of our trade.  

Stepping into this void is the Seventh Circuit, which has published its own guidelines for briefing and other papers, which states thus:
Typographic decisions should be made for a purpose. The Times of London chose the typeface Times New Roman to serve an audience looking for a quick read. Lawyers don’t want their audience to read fast and throw the document away; they want to maximize retention. Achieving that goal requires a different approach—different typefaces, different column widths, different writing conventions. Briefs are like books rather than newspapers. The most important piece of advice we can offer is this: read some good books and try to make your briefs more like them.
Both the Supreme Court and the Solicitor General use Century. Professional typographers set books in New Baskerville, Book Antiqua, Calisto, Century, Century Schoolbook, Bookman Old Style and many other proportionally spaced serif faces. Any face with the word “book” in its name is likely to be good for legal work. Baskerville, Bembo, Caslon, Deepdene, Galliard, Jenson, Minion, Palatino, Pontifex, Stone Serif, Trump MediƤval, and Utopia are among other faces designed for use in books and thus suitable for brief-length presentations.
Briefs are the vehicles by which lawyers "sell" their ideas, and a poor style will undermine the validity of the arguments contained therein.  That is, a brief's style, or lack thereof, can impact the reader's impression in the same way a house's poor curb appeal can scare away potential buyers.  The interior - the furnishings, fixtures, appliances, molding, etc... - may be of the highest craftsmanship, but a dirt driveway, dated siding, and bare landscaping will give potential buyers the impression of cheapness and lack of care.

Lawyers should thus take note of the wisdom offered by Victor Hugo: Style is the substance of the subject called unceasingly to the surface.

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