10 Takeaways from Typography for Lawyers – Part Two

Last week, I posted my first five takeaways from Matthew Butterick’s Typography for Lawyers, which is indispensable reading for lawyers who want to improve their legal-writing and typography skills. In particular, I discussed how his following recommendations can instantly improve your writing: use only one space after sentence-ending periods; don’t underline for emphasis; use proportional fonts; try alternatives to Arial and Times New Roman; and don’t let Microsoft Word automatically change ordinals to superscript.

Here are my final five takeaways:

6. Turn on kerning.

Kerning adjusts specific pairs of letters to improve their spacing and fit on the printed page. Butterick says to turn on kerning. (Query: How many lawyers learned this gem in law school or from a senior partner?) By default, Microsoft Word doesn’t activate kerning, so you have to do it manually. Here’s how, in Word 2007: Select the Font menu and the Character Spacing tab (in Word 2010, it’s the Advanced tab). Check the box “Kerning for fonts __ Points and above,” and select the number 8 in the point-size box. You’re ready to go.

7. Use curly quotes instead of straight quotes.

Though there are exceptions (most notably, foot and inch marks) no legal document should include straight quotes (yet another vestige of the typewriter). Butterick’s website shows how each type of quote appears in text. To use curly quotes, you need to find Word’s smart-quote feature (which can be turned on or off). By default, Word automatically turns on smart quotes.

Over the years, I’ve read many briefs and contracts that contained straight quotes with proportional fonts (and some, interestingly enough, that contained both types of quotes). Given that in Word you need to manually turn on straight quotes, I still have no clue how the straight quotes found their way into those documents. If you are using straight quotes in your documents, you need to get rid of them.

8. Left- or full-text justification is acceptable. But if you like full justification, turn on hyphenation.

Left-justified text has a clean left edge and a ragged right edge. Fully justified text has clean left and right edges. Butterick doesn’t recommend either left or full justification, calling the choice a matter of “personal preference.” His personal preference is left justification, which he believes “relaxes the page.” (pp. 136). In his Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style (Section 4.10), Bryan Garner also says to “avoid full justification,” though The Redbook is fully justified, as is other books he’s written, like Garner on Language and Writing.

I’ve never liked left-justified text. As a law clerk on the Minnesota Court of Appeals, I wrote memoranda with fully justified text, and my judge used fully justified text in his opinions. The ragged right edge in left-justified text is distracting to my eye. Full justification, in my view, looks cleaner.

The courts aren’t uniform on the use of left-versus-right justification. And I cannot find any recent trend in judicial preference between the two. I’ve also never read any local rule of procedure or form that requires a particular text justification. The Minnesota Supreme Court uses full justification, but the Minnesota Court of Appeals and federal district courts are mixed. Like including only one space after sentence-ending periods, I doubt using full justification in a brief submitted to a judge who prefers left justification will make any difference, but it cannot hurt to follow the judge’s justification preference.

If you prefer full justification, however, Butterick says that it’s “mandatory” to turn on Word’s hyphenation feature. Hyphenation breaks words between lines to create a consistent text block. Word doesn’t automatically turn on hyphenation, so (like kerning) you have to do it yourself. In Word 2007 and 2010, you can turn on hyphenation by selecting the Page Layout menu, the Page Setup panel, and the Hyphenation box.

Since I started practicing law, though, I’ve never read a fully justified brief or judicial opinion that contained hyphenation (other than United States Supreme Court opinions). And if you’ve never used it, hyphenation looks strange at first. But Butterick is right that hyphenation reduces the awkward white space and breaks that can appear in fully justified text without hyphenation. If you still are unsure about using fully justified text with hyphenation, you can find comfort in the fact that both the United States Supreme Court and the Solicitor General use this type of justification in their opinions and briefs, respectively.

9. Use line lengths of 45-90 characters.

Butterick also recommends policing line length: “Shorter lines are more comfortable to read than longer lines,” and will “make a big difference in the legibility and professionalism of your layout.” (pp. 141) He says that lines of text should be no longer than 45-90 characters, which you can monitor by using Word’s Word Count feature. But getting 45-90 characters in your lines of text shouldn’t be a problem, if you follow my last takeaway below.

10. Use left- and right-page margins of no less than 1.5″.

Butterick says that 1″ margins are too small for proportional fonts, which you should usually use in legal documents. He recommends 1.5″ to 2″ left and right margins. In many local rules, courts permit briefs with either a specified number of pages or a specified number of words. So increasing your margins generally won’t matter.

But I would hesitate to increase left and right margins beyond 1.5″. Larger margins result in longer briefs (obviously), and longer briefs may be problematic if you’re filing a relatively long brief. When a judge gets a brief that’s 50-pages long, he may sigh, wishing you would have heeded Cicero’s advice that “When you wish to instruct, be brief.”

50 pages is a lot to read. If the judge has the choice to read a 50-page brief with 2″ margins (which would otherwise be a 43-page brief with 1.5″ margins) the judge might decide to read the other side’s brief first, or simply skim yours. So heed Butterick’s advice about margins, but always keep in mind your intended reader.

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  • http://adamlillylaw.com/ Adam Lilly

    I think that fully justified text looks much better at the page level, but doesn’t read as well. Even with hyphenation, I always get the occasional widely spaced line (like at the end of a paragraph).
    And, while I agree with most of what you and Butterick have said, I will never use 1.5″ margins. That’s just far too wide for my tastes.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      After switching to 1.5″ margins, I will never go back. It took a little while to adjust, but it just looks so much better. Also, for what it’s worth, the U.S. Supreme Court requires 2″, I think.

      • David Burke

        The Supreme Court doesn’t require 2″ margins. It requires 1″ margins, but the text block is only 4-1/8″ inches wide because the brief-booklet size is only 6-1/8″ wide, rather than a standard 8-1/2″ for nearly all other briefs.

        • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

          Fair point. Of course, getting narrower (and more readable) columns necessitates larger margins on regular-sized paper.

  • http://www.heinrichslaw.com/attorney_profile/barrett_shipp/ JBS

    “Given that in Word you need to manually turn on straight quotes, I still have no clue how the straight quotes found their way into those documents.”

    The author has probably either (i) copied the content from a web page and pasted into the document and (ii) relied on a form whose original author did (i).

    When I’m reviewing a brief or motion, the straight quotes are a dead giveaway that the author lifted the content from the internet, typically without attribution. It’s sloppy, arguably unethical, and the client shouldn’t be billed for “drafting.”

    • http://adamlillylaw.com/ Adam Lilly

      I strongly disagree with it being unethical. I don’t have my Bluebook handy (since I’m at home), but I’m not even sure how you would attribute something like that. That aside, where I am (Georgia), there’s absolutely nothing wrong with lifting tried-and-true parts, or even forms wholesale. Whatever is best for the clients.

      • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

        Agreed. Plagiarizing legal documents is a law school honor code violation, not unethical in practice.

        • http://www.heinrichslaw.com JBS

          @Adam and Sam,

          There is a balance and certainly gray areas (‘arguably’). Adam’s mentioning of a widely-used practice of using portions of a standard of review or building a new motion from a previous one would not fall into that category.

          But I disagree with Sam that plagiarism is a law school sin- but something we should also seek to avoid as attorneys. We have a responsibilities of avoiding dishonesty in our law practices and candor towards the court. (Model Rules Prof. Conduct 3.3, 8.4(c)). Depending on the case, I think plagiarism falls within this prohibited conduct.

          Courts have sanctioned attorneys for plagiarizing briefs, memos, and pleadings. (1),(2). Mirow’s Plagiarism: A Workshop for Law Students- which has a good overview/discussion and cites several cases where courts have done the same. (3)

          Further, if you’re actually not drafting anything of substance [or a minor component] and charge the client for ‘drafting’ the entire document, you also run into some unethical conduct. There are disciplinary proceedings faulting the lawyer for same.

          (1) Weiss, “Iowa Lawyer Reprimanded for Plagiarizing Bankruptcy Brief” (Oct 18, 2010) http://www.abajournal.com/mobile/article/iowa_lawyer_reprimanded_for_plagiarizing_bankruptcy_brief?utm_source=maestro&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly_email

          (2) In re Hinden, 654 A.2d 864, 1995 D.C. App. LEXIS 31 (attorney-author reprimanded for plagiarizing 23 pages of a 56-page chapter in a health law casebook).

          (3) Matthew C. Mirow’s Plagiarism: A Workshop for Law Students (Lexis) http://www.lwionline.org/publications/plagiarism/lawschool.pdf

    • http://www.linkedin.com/in/matthewsalzwedel Matthew Salzwedel

      This explanation makes sense. Now that I think about it more, cutting-and-pasting from Westlaw or Lexis was probably the cause. But it was extra sloppy for the drafters to leave the straight quotes in the document after pasting them there. It’s not like they don’t JUMP off the page, especially when the reader sees curly quotes in other parts of the document.

  • Andrew Laurence

    I did word processing in a small law firm in San Francisco 20 years ago. They were using very expensive pre-printed pleading paper with 28 numbered lines, and they also had some that had 26 numbered lines. Each had their firm’s name and address in the lower left, except when it didn’t. Then there was a fifth variety which was made of lower quality paper in yellow, used for drafts.

    I thought this was silly and wasteful, so I used WordPerfect 5.1 (for DOS) macros to print the numbers, the vertical lines, and the firm’s name and address (if required), along with the actual document, in a single pass. Now they only needed high-quality watermarked white paper for submissions and cheap canary-yellow copy paper for drafts.

    I sometimes miss those days, and I miss WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS.

    • http://blog.simplejustice.us shg

      I miss WP 5.1 too. Best damn wordprocessing program ever. It was like a secret handshake beteen lawyers, since nobody else used it.