Product Review: Typography for Lawyers

Today is the day you can officially purchase Matthew Butterick’s second edition of Typography for Lawyers. I’ll wait while you make the purchase. (It’s $30.00 on Amazon in paperback, but I’d get the Kindle version, when available.)

Butterick Typography for Lawyers

The best book you’ll purchase, period

Okay, I might be over-exaggerating the benefit of this book, but not by much. Personally, I hope that judges and lawyers everywhere adopt the philosophies, but I’m also a realist. Despite the various times you’ll push and prod, lawyers won’t budge on recognizing the importance of typography.

Don’t take my word about the importance of Typography, Bryan Garner (of Black’s Law Dictionary fame) wrote the foreward:

If Matthew Butterick didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him. What’s unusual about the tour de force you’re now holding is that not only is it bold and fresh and original, but also it’s fully developed …. It’s smartly reasoned, it’s backed up by years of cultivated expertise, and it’s well written.

Amen, Bryan. Typography will undoubtedly change and improve the documents you produce.

What is typography?

One of the biggest questions you’ll receive (or perhaps you think), is “what is typography?” Most of the time the question is, “oh, so like writing? Will it improve my writing?”

No, typography is not about writing.

Typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language legible, readable, and appealing when displayed. The arrangement of type involves selecting typefaces, point size, line length, line-spacing (leading), letter-spacing (tracking), and adjusting the space within letters pairs (kerning).

At least that’s how Wikipedia defines it. Quite simply, typography is all about making the words on your page look beautiful. As Butterick puts it on page 21, “Typography is for the benefit of the reader, not the writer.”

I’ve discussed Typography for Lawyers before when we discussed Google Fonts.

Edition 1 versus Edition 2

The second edition of Typography isn’t a revolutionary change. One of the biggest additions was the references to the twentieth edition of the Bluebook. For instance, Butterick points out that the newest version favors italics in citations, as opposed to underlining.

In a printed document, don’t underline. Ever. It’s ugly and it makes text harder to read.

“But the Bluebook requires underlining.” No it doesn’t. In its rules for practitioners, the Bluebook chooses to “keep the tradition of underscoring certain text,” but practitioners “may substitute italics whereever underscoring is used” … the 20th edition says to “italicize (or underscore).”

That makes my heart sing since I prefer italics over underlining in all of my documents.

The second edition also offers advice regarding email — abandon typography — and presentations. Interestingly enough, Typography suggests that instead of using “business card-like” signatures in your emails, you simply use text. Once again, my heart swoons.

Small helps

Typography offers other small suggestions to improve the look of your documents. One of my favorites is regarding Bates numbers. This seems like a lawyer-specific function, but Butterick offers value to make the numbering stand out and look good.

  1. Make the point size reasonably big — not smaller than 12 point.
  2. Use a font with good numerals.
  3. Use color. I recommend a medium-dark orange.
  4. Make sure your Bates numbers don’t get stamped in the content of the document.

I like how Acrobat handles Bates numbers on documents (don’t forget to shrink the document), but other programs also work well. Typography gives helpful “how to” notes for performing functions in Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, and Adobe Acrobat. That’s a great function since sometimes I’m “tech-stupid” in certain tasks.

Typography helps you get serious about making your documents look good

If you’re serious about making the words on the page as compelling as the arguments on the page, Typography is your book. If you think you don’t need Typography to help, then you’re lying to yourself. You need Typography. Your writing needs Typography.

I received a preview copy of this book in paperback. I wish I purchased the second edition in Kindle Digital version.

2 Responses to Product Review: Typography for Lawyers

  1. I read the first version and it changed my whole outlook. I use what I learned in every document I create. I also bought his Equity text.

    • Wholly agree, minus Equity text. I use Crimson Text from Google, which gives a similar output. Now, it’s time to fix my Normal.dot file, instead of using a template all of the time.

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Jeff Taylor

I’m just an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life. I’m also an attorney and I blog about Android for lawyers. You can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Google+.