Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Typography for Lawyers

Click on the link for this post, or in this sentence to visit http://www.typographyforlawyers.com/. Many thanks to Meg Martin, who posted to RIPS-SIS blog about this fascinating website. The blog is maintained by a civil litigation attorney in Los Angeles, Matthew Butterick, who also has an art degree. He noticed that many legal documents suffer from poor "typography," or the visual component the written word. (Butterick thoughtfully defines it for his readers and offers some illustrations that take us beyond mere fonts). The site is set up as a series of increasingly sophisticated lessons in typography for users of Word and WordPerfect, designed for lawyers. Yay!

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.

You don’t need aesthetic judgment to be a good typographer. (It won’t hurt, but you don’t need it.) You just need to be able to identify what your text is trying to accomplish and figure out how to reinforce that message with typography.
Butterick does a nice job illustrating his points, and taking his reader along step by step to show why you should buy into his assertions. He keeps it light, and makes it entertaining. He uses the illustration of the famous butterfly ballot (above) to show an example of poor typography and help the reader think about the results it can have. The rest of the website includes detailed information on improving the look of documents, from simple to more complex. He also includes a nice, brief bibliography on legal writing (all Bryan Garner books -- Whatta fan!) And Butterick finishes up with very helpful, detailed notes on actual court rules on the requirements for fonts. What a very different, and interesting website!

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