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.
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:
The bomb-sniffing dog that inspected my car.
The security guard who rode the elevator with me.
The elaborately decorated offices on the 23rd floor.
The platoon of support staff.
The videoconferencing system linking four offices.
The lavish lunch buffet.
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,
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.