I came across a website called “Typography for Lawyers,” that, you guessed it, is about typography in legal documents. It’s a nicely put-together site by a lawyer who has an art degree from Harvard and was a type designer before law school.
I know what you’re thinking — “Typography?! I set the word processor for Times New Roman and forget it.” (( If you have the newest version of Microsoft Word, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise. Even that venerable word processor’s default font is no longer Times New Roman. It’s instead a font called “Cambria” that did not exist before 2004. ))
Do your readers feel the same way?
The author of Typography for Lawyers doesn’t think Times New Roman is inherently bad — just that it is too common to be distinctive. I wouldn’t advocate changing fonts in an appellate brief to look distinctive. Appellate briefs are not about self-expression.
That said, the problem with Times New Roman is that it was just not designed to be read in long-form documents like an appellate brief. That becomes obvious when you spend all day reading briefs. For this reason, the Seventh Circuit has a guide that explains that court’s strong preference for other fonts:
Typographic decisions should be made for a purpose. The Times of London chose the typeface Times New Roman to serve an audience looking for a quick read. Lawyers donâ€™t want their audience to read fast and throw the document away; they want to maximize retention. Achieving that goal requires a different approachâ€”different typefaces, different column widths, different writing conventions. Briefs are like books rather than newspapers. The most important piece of advice we can offer is this: read some good books and try to make your briefs more like them.
Going even farther, the U.S. Supreme Court now prohibits Times New Roman and requires fonts in the Century family (Rule 33.1(b)). (( The Court originally proposed a rule that would have required the specific font “New Century Schoolbook,” but there was some outcry because that font is only available by paid license. The Court revised its final rule to be slightly broader and thus to include fonts that are available on most computers without charge. ))
The Texas Supreme Court does not require any particular font, and most briefs filed are Times New Roman, with little changed from Microsoft Word’s defaults. That may be the least dangerous approach, but it is surely not the required one. If you have a brief that you want the Court to consider carefully, you want to spend the time to make your brief look polished. You can make it stand out by being clean, well-edited, and easy to read. Putting at least that much thought into it is just common courtesy.