Typefaces for use in legal practice

tchr's picture

I'm a lawyer trying to decide on typefaces to use in my legal practice.

So you understand when I'm coming from: I learned some very basic typography back in college when I edited a publication (e.g. use one space instead of two after a period, when to use em dashes instead of hyphens, use italics instead of underlining, use serif fonts for text—I've read way too many lengthy legal briefs that my opponent has set in Arial!), but lost interest for years and have only recently started trying to really control the type and make the document look good. Basically, I don't want a judge to pick up my brief and dread reading it because it looks awful.

As for font selection, my university was Mac-centric back in the late 80's/early 90's, and we had the standard LaserWriter fonts at our disposal. I, along with just about everyone else, used Palatino for term papers, and we used ITC Bookman (my first love, though I now understand why MT Bookman Old Style is preferred) and Helvetica in our publication. When I finished law school, I was suddenly thrust into the Windows world and didn't have Palatino or Bookman at my disposal. I had to find something new, and, the legal world being conformist, I started using Times New Roman. I didn't think twice about it for 10 years.

I now understand that Times is too narrow to use with 8.5 by 11 paper and was digitized from a headline size, so I want to get away from it. I've been looking around at different typefaces for the last few months. So far, I'm happy with Bitstream's Classical Garamond (i.e. Sabon) for use in legal briefs, where I want the text to look distinguished and a bit weighty. (I have an old copy of WordPerfect with most of the Bitstream library, by the way.) However, for everyday correspondence, I think it's a little too elegant; I'm looking for something a little more business-like.

I've considered going back to good old Palatino. I've also considered BT's Aldine 721 because it isn't too far afield from Times but is a bit wider (even though I've read somewhere that it's narrower than "real" Plantin). It seems like Minion is well respected as a workhorse typeface around here, but, realizing that I'm stuck with 8.5x11 paper and a wide measure, it's too narrow—with kerning on, you get even more characters per line than Times New Roman. Anything else that I should look at? I don't mind spending a few bucks to get it right.

Thanks in advance for the help. I've been lurking here for a few months and I'm very impressed with the knowledge level.

tchr's picture

Great thread, but it's oriented more towards pleadings. I think that I've just about settled on Sabon for briefs/pleadings. My question is geared more towards correspondence.

olho's picture

One thing you mention but don't explore is text block on your letter. Manipulating the width of that will allow you to use a more efficiently spaced type like Minion without sacrificing legibility due to the unweildy line-length.

I'm a European, and so use the standardised paper sizes rather than US letter size, which I assume you'll be using. A4 is more rectangular, and therefore probably more easy to work with than US letter, but neither is a truly appreciable shape on which to set type. One trick might be to set your block to a known, respected shape like a golden section or a hexagonal calculation. That way you can mitigate the clumsy paper shape with your type set in a respectable block.

A quick cheat I use regularly (on A4) is to set a wide left margin. It's not measured, but the asymmetry and shorter line-length work almost immediately. Liberate yourself from the paper size! If you want more information, Bringhurst has a great discussion of the text block in his book, The Elements of Typographic Style.

If you think through the design of your letter I think you'll have an easier time finding the right face to express your missives.

twardoch's picture

My favorite Times replacement is Aldine 721 (i.e. the Bitstream revival of the Plantin face). It has somewhat similar proportions to Times but better color. It's very neutral and legible. And many people won't notice it as a "non-default" face.


Scalfin's picture

Constantia has been judged to have high legibility.

Quincunx's picture

Why not look for a typeface designed in the 21st century? Instead of the old usual suspects. ;)

This thread has a nice list with fairly new serif typefaces.

peter.ricardo's picture

Linotype Times Ten! It rocks when laser-printed even at 12 (or 11) points, and completely solves your too-narrow problem, as well as having a noticeably more beautiful italic than regular Times. And most correspondents you use it with won't have any idea what hit them, or why your letter looks so good—they won't immediately think that you're trying to be All Fancy.

Zivatar's picture

Sabon has always struck me as a better correspondence typeface than briefing typeface, so if you like it for briefs, you might like it for correspondence as well. I tend to like Palatino better. Palatino's vertical spacing using "single spacing" on a word processor is greater than Sabon's, though.

My suggestion, however, is that you go to ebay, and buy yourself a new copy of WordPerfect 8 (yes, from the '90s), generally available for ten bucks or less. It comes with a HUGE number of Bitstream typefaces (something on the order of 1000), including clones of many you might want to consider. I've spent a lot of money on fonts that seemed ideal for legal work, but that turned out not to be for reasons that just weren't evident at first glance. Then do up a few sample documents, and try out a bunch of the fonts that you think might be suitable. Not everything you might be considering will be there, but believe me, it's a royal pain to spend money on an expensive font that turns out to be unsuitable unsuitable for some obscure reason (e.g., the weird pilcrow in Le Monde Livre). I really like Dolly's color and cleverness, for example, but the friggin' figures. Aaargh! It cost me about 450 bucks for a 5-user license--that was an expensive lesson. And there are more expensive fonts, such as those from DTL. If I hit Powerball I might buy some DTL fonts.

One of the problems with many of the newest fonts, including most of the new Microsoft fonts that come with Vista and/or Office 2007 (e.g., the very legible and nicely done Constantia), is the current vogue for old style figures as the default figures. For a lot of legal work those simply won't do, although there may be some types of law practice for which OSF are perfectly okay. With few, if any, exceptions, the Bitstream fonts on the WordPerfect 8 CD don't have that problem.

One last hint: if you're using Microsoft Word 2003 or later, TURN OFF THE EXPLETIVE DELETED ORDINALS SUPERSCRIPTING, and pick the WordPerfect-style justification if you're gonna right-justify.

Scalfin's picture

Supposedly, old style figures are more legible, which is why a a test of legibility (for on-screen, though) showed both the serif 2007 fonts showed greater legibility than Times New Roman, measuring by number of mix ups. Cambria showed the lowest percentage of mistakes overall, but most likely because the number recognition in Constantia was incredibly low, most likely do to the fact that people are unfamiliar to that style of number. In letters, which make up the bulk of what is on most pages, though, Constantia was the best, which I think makes it superior (besides, I like old-style numbers, even putting numbers in Georgia in TNR text).

Here it is: http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/81/legibility.htm

Scalfin's picture

Oh yeah, how do you disable the ordinals superscripting, and why should I (I don't know what it is)?
Also, how do I know whether cleartype is on or off and how I one decides which it should be.

tchr's picture

Lots of good advice here...thanks!

Olho: Good suggestion re: the text block, but unfortunately, I don't control my law firm's stationery, and given the design, large margins would look awkward.

peter.ricardo: I'm aware of Times Ten and will give it a look. I have Dutch 801 in the Bitstream library; I seem to remember reading that it's based on Times Ten, not Times New Roman. Can anyone confirm this? It certainly isn't as condensed as TNR. And I assume Dutch 801 Headline is Times 18?

Quincunx: I'm open to a 21st century font. Among those mentioned in the thread that I've looked at and liked are Dolly, Arnhem, and Miller. Arnhem struck me as the most appropriate, but it's hard to tell from a screen sample. Does anyone have any experience with it in a business setting?

Re: Old style numerals: I think someone suggested in the other legal thread (the one sii posted) that they're OK for text but you definitely don't want to use them in legal style citations, which makes sense to me. Of course, if you're going to use both lining and old style, you need a program that supports OpenType, which rules out Word and WordPerfect, i.e., what most lawyers use. (My firm has both.) I guess that I'd have to stick with lining numerals for everything until Microsoft and Corel finally get with the times and incorporate OpenType. (I have Apple Pages at home, so no problem there.)

And while we're still on the subject of Sabon...can anyone recommend a good sans to use for headers? I've tried Optima, but I'm open to other suggestions...

Zivatar's picture

I think you'll find that something more vanilla than Optima will work better, but even then pairing a sans with a serifed font is tricky in legal work--it tends to look a bit weird, since almost nobody does it, and judges/lawyers/clients aren't used to seeing it. Try experimenting first with "free" alternatives such as Corbel and Segoe, or the Bitstream Clone of Frutiger, Humanist 777, if you have that. Anything but Arial. Corbel would be my first choice, since it's beautifully clean and matches Sabon in x-height, but the OSF in Corbel may give you problems.

I assume by "headers" you mean headings or subheadings such as "Argument and Authorities" or "2. XYZ Corp. probably does not have a colorable fraud claim."

Scalfin's picture

In the design forum, I posted in the font for book thread asking about sans if I absolutely had had to use one, producing a list that you might want to look at.

For old style figures, why don't you just use a different font for numbers outside of text? Cambria might be close enough to Constantia that its numbers could be switched as long as the numbers in one font aren't in the middle of text in the other.

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