“I’ve got a question.”

I was at a fancy law firm in down­town Los An­ge­les. A few min­utes were left in my lunchtime talk about ty­pog­ra­phy. As a rule, that’s the mo­ment when skep­tics step for­ward to lob their rhetor­i­cal chal­lenges. But the voice be­longed to a se­nior part­ner. I hoped for the best.

“Sure, go ahead,” I said.

“It’s great that you’re into ty­pog­ra­phy, but really—

What does it have to do with the prac­tice of law?”

I paused. Typ­i­cally, I use skep­tics’ ques­tions as a chance to re­cap key points. But this time, I found my­self re­mem­ber­ing what I’d al­ready seen on my way to the session:

And I wanted to re­spond with a ques­tion of my own—

What does any of this have to do with the prac­tice of law?

Clearly noth­ing! And I’m not sin­gling out this firm. Lawyers every­where spend a lot of time and money on things that, let’s face it, mostly make us feel com­fort­able and im­por­tant. I’ve given plenty of talks in posh con­fer­ence rooms with buf­fet lunches. But no buf­fet lunch has ever im­proved a client’s chances in court. No law­yer has ever said, “This is a really tough case—we’d bet­ter move to an of­fice with a mar­ble bathroom.”

Why not? Be­cause de­spite the fancy trap­pings of lawyer­dom, law­yers still rise or fall based on the care we put into a case. The writ­ten word is in­dis­pens­able, but it’s in­dis­pens­able be­cause it’s the pri­mary ves­sel for that care—the re­search, the dili­gence, the crit­i­cal think­ing, and the ar­gu­ments that move every case forward.

I started by telling you that ty­pog­ra­phy is the vi­sual com­po­nent of the writ­ten word. That it has a util­i­tar­ian func­tion. That’s all still true.

But there’s an­other di­men­sion. In the law­yer’s hands, ty­pog­ra­phy is one more way of ex­press­ing the care that’s es­sen­tial to our work.

So if you think you need the buf­fet lunches and the bomb-sniff­ing dogs to do your job, that’s fine. But ty­pog­ra­phy doesn’t be­long in the same cat­e­gory. Like the writ­ten word it­self, ty­pog­ra­phy is a ves­sel for what you in­vest. What you get out of it de­pends on what you put in.

But these ex­pe­ri­ences have also taught me that I can’t per­suade every­one. And that’s fine too. In fact, maybe we ty­pog­ra­phy en­thu­si­asts are bet­ter off that way. Be­cause once every­one adopts good ty­pog­ra­phy, it will no longer be our se­cret weapon.

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