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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Fonts matter

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“Handwriting and longhand may soon be things of the past, but fonts still matter”

As law students, our professors told us to be concise and direct in arguing our pleadings.

We were also reminded that allegations must be constructed logically and clearly, making it easier for justices and judges to read our pleadings.

I recall that as a young associate in the law firm of Romulo, Mabanta, Buenaventura, Sayoc and de los Angeles, our then Litigation Head and former Dean of the Ateneo School of Law, Eduardo de los Angeles, advised us to use short and easily understood sentences.

We were also taught to avoid legalese in our pleadings because what is already clear may easily become ambiguous.

When I started my law practice in the early 1990s, we were expected to be able to efficiently use the computer.

In fact, the most common computer program then was Word Perfect and fonts were not as integral a part of getting a message across as they are today.

Transitioning from typewriters to computers offered an immediate advantage, rendering correction fluid almost obsolete.

More importantly, documents or pleadings need not be retyped but only required quick correction before reprinting.

Recently, a former student, Anna Manalaysay, now a Partner in the London firm of Foran and Glennon sent me a Decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit for the case of Asyma Design, LLC v. CBL & Associates Management, Inc.

The appeal was dismissed because it was not signed by a lawyer and no reply brief was filed by Asyma (No. 23-2495).

Interestingly, the Decision “urge[d] all lawyers to read and follow this circuit’s Practitioner’s Handbook for Appeals (2020 ed.).”

This is “more important for the sore eyes of judges who must read copious legal materials, the Handbook… contains some important advice about typography.”

“Of the many typographic suggestions in the Handbook, the one most important to readers is that lawyers choose typefaces (often called fonts) suited for use in books and other long-form presentations.”

“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 Mediaeval, and Utopia are among other faces designed for use in books and thus suitable for brief length presentations. Use the most legible face available to you.”

“Experiment with several, then choose the one you find easiest to read. Typ[ing] with a larger ‘x-height’ (that is, in which the letter x is taller in relation to a capital letter) tends to be more legible.

“For this reason, faces in the Bookman and Century families are preferable to faces in the Garamond and Times families.”

“Matthew Butterick, a type designer turned appellate lawyer, offers advice similar to that in our Handbook.”

“He provides a different (though overlapping) list of typefaces good for use in legal briefs.”

“Judges are long-term consumers of lengthy texts. To present an argument to such people, counsel must make the words easy to read and remember.

“The fonts recommended in our Handbook and Typography for Lawyers promote the goals of reading, understanding, and remembering.”

Not only should lawyers write with clarity and unity of ideas but also legibly.

Rather than the digital age ushering an era of “post-legibility,” word processing applications only further underscore that not all fonts are created equal.

For computer users, legibility is synonymous with selecting the appropriate typeface for the materials the weary eyes of our justices and judges consume daily.

Handwriting and longhand may soon be things of the past, but fonts still matter.


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