After reading about Matthew Butterick’s new book, Typography for Lawyers, on the Appellate Record, I picked up a copy. You should, too.
The book is outstanding. I can’t say enough good things about it. If you want to get a flavor for Butterick’s work, check out his website. It’s loaded with helpful tips and examples.
Butterick’s basic premise is that lawyers are professional writers, and proper document design is part of effective writing. As he puts it, good typography helps conserve reader attention. The typography typically found in legal documents, by contrast, does . . . something else.
The common formatting of legal documents is a holdover from the time when people used typewriters and couldn’t do any better than underlining, double-spacing, using capital letters for emphasis, etc. Those techniques are lazy; they make things easier on the writer, not the reader. They are therefore counterproductive.
Put slightly differently, formatting your document to look like it just rolled off a Selectric undermines all of the hard work that you have put into your writing.
That’s the basic idea. There is far too much great stuff in Butterick to even try to summarize it here.
Instead, I will just prove to you that Butterick’s stuff works and leave it to you to read his book or check his website for further edification.
How will I do that?
plagiarism reference. In a legal writing nerdgasm, Kendall Gray took an opinion from the Supreme Court of Texas and shipped if off to Butterick for his review and improvement.
Here is the original document.
Here is the Buttericked version.
The difference isn’t subtle. One looks like a college term paper. The other looks like a professionally designed document.
If you would like a detailed explanation of how that worked, check out Kendall’s blog. (Actually, you should do that anyway. It’s really well done.) Butterick lays out the steps. It helps to know words like “kerning” before trying to read this.
If you would like to skip the explanation and learn how to do this yourself, go here.
Could we get Butterick to do the same thing to a SCOVA brief or opinion?
Doubtful. I hate Rule 5:6 more than anyone. Double-spaced 14-point Arial makes my eyes hurt and my heart sad. But after reading his book, I’m pretty sure that seeing a document set up that way would kill a part of Butterick’s soul.