By Matthew Butterick, Jones McClure Publishing, Houston, 216 pages, $25
The subject of typography may seem fascinating to some, but to the rest of the world, about as interesting as trainspotting. For lawyers, or at least, lawyers who care about how their finished work product looks, the subject should be important.
Typography for Lawyers, by Matthew Butterick, is a most worthwhile entry in this field. The author is a typographer and lawyer, so many of the ideas he espouses carry a bit more weight than those that might be touted by one solely trained in typography. (The author has a related website, typographyforlawyers.com).
One of the most important ideas in improving our writing is to realize that the computers we all use aren’t just enhanced electric typewriters. Few of us have taken the time to poke through any but the most basic bells and whistles. But the bells and whistles of any software that we now have available need to be exploited.
Exploited intelligently, though. One can easily go hog wild, combining underlining with italics with bold for emphasis. And adding all caps. The result is a bit rich, like using sugar and honey and aspartame. The author makes sensible suggestions on the ways to spice up one’s writing. His guiding light is subtlety.
More so than other professions, we are slaves to convention—precedent—and the form motion or brief that was good enough for our predecessors in 1972 is good enough for us still.
But it’s not. Individual trial judges as well as appellate courts, state and federal, have issued their own rules or preferences on how papers should be formatted. For the most part, these requirements are still rather basic and members of the judiciary themselves could benefit from some of the ideas contained in this book.
I mean, does the legal world believe that 12-point Times New Roman is the only serif font that’s out there? Steve Jobs revolutionized font availability a quarter century ago, but to look at what is acceptable in the legal world, that revolution has passed us by.
The book abounds with side-by-side examples, which are quite helpful to a reader who might doubt some of the author’s assertions. That 1972 form motion looks more than a bit creaky/antique-y.
One test of a book’s value is whether it changes how you think or act. Suffice it to say, while the author hasn’t convinced me of the utility of every single change he advocates, I’ve been humbled in many ways and can recognize the value he gives in discussing font and graphics. And I’ve implemented a number of changes on my computer.
Some of what he advocates is easy to agree with, e.g., not using roman numerals and “romanettes” (i, ii, iii).
Other suggestions may take a bit more time to adjust to. I’m not totally convinced about not indenting paragraphs.
One of the nice touches of this book are its clear directions for making changes with different types of software: parallel instructions for Word 2003 and 2007, Word 2010, WordPerfect and Pages.
What’s reassuring is that a number of changes need be inputted just once on a word processor. An example: typing an email address, it comes out underlined and in blue. There’s a simple set of steps to prevent this from happening. Small stuff, but combine enough of these, and one’s presentation skills start looking impressive.
By the end of the book, the author has given intelligent discussion to letterheads, business cards, motions, and resumes—excuse me, résumés (the author is a stickler for accent marks with certain words).
These ideas are worthwhile, and not just for that one person in the office who cares more about fonts than seems natural. Secretaries, paralegals as well as attorneys who draft their own briefs should find many of Butterick’s ideas worthwhile.
Gary Muldoon, a partner with Muldoon & Getz in Rochester, is the author of Handling a Criminal Case in New York (Thomson Reuters).