court opinionsMore diverse than you might think

A com­mon coun­ter­ar­gu­ment I hear from at­tor­neys re­sis­tant to bet­ter ty­pog­ra­phy is called What Judges Want. In Mad Libs for­mat, it goes like this: “Sure Matthew, that’s a fine idea, but ____ noun ____ is what judges want, be­cause all judges are ____ ad­jec­tive phrase ____.”

What goes in the blanks?
“14-point type”...“old and wear glasses.”
“Times New Ro­man”...“read­ing on pa­per.”
“Bor­ing ty­pog­ra­phy”...“only in­ter­ested in substance.”

Or any­thing, really. Be­cause What Judges Want is based on the same faulty rea­son­ing as all broad-brush­stroke ar­gu­ments. Whether you’ve met ten judges or a thou­sand, it’s ap­par­ent that they’re as dif­fer­ent from each other as at­tor­neys are. Why try to generalize?

I don’t. Rather than de­bate What Judges Want, I en­cour­age these at­tor­neys to rely on ev­i­dence. Court rules are one example.

Court opin­ions are an­other. If it were true that judges are “only in­ter­ested in sub­stance”—a fa­vored con­tention—then we’d ex­pect judges to put zero ef­fort into the pre­sen­ta­tion of their own work. But that’s not the case. Sure, plenty of judges is­sue doc­u­ments that look aw­ful. Just as plenty of at­tor­neys do. But many oth­ers ap­pre­ci­ate that ty­pog­ra­phy makes a difference.

This next ex­am­ple is not fic­tional. It shows re­cent im­prove­ments made by the Utah Supreme Court to the ty­pog­ra­phy of its opinions.

  1. Mono­spaced font.
    Di­vider line made out of al­pha­betic characters.

  2. Mid­dle of page is dis­or­ga­nized and hard to fol­low.
    Un­der­lin­ing for emphasis.

  3. Small page mar­gins; over­sized line length.
    Line spac­ing too tight.

This opin­ion is an ex­cel­lent sum­mary of the pre­vi­ous chap­ters, show­ing what hap­pens when you toss out ob­so­lete type­writer habits and re­place them with sim­ple prin­ci­ples of good typography.

  1. More read­able body text font.
    Di­vider lines made with rules and bor­ders.
    Bold or italic used spar­ingly for emphasis.

  2. Cen­tered text used to or­ga­nize mid­dle of page.
    Small caps rather than underlining.

  3. Jus­ti­fied text used with hy­phen­ation.
    Wider page mar­gins; more leg­i­ble lines.
    Taller line spacing.

Sim­i­lar to the Vi­o­let–Trixie résumé test in why does ty­pog­ra­phy mat­ter, I of­ten show skep­ti­cal law­yers this pair of opin­ions. I ask: which one would you rather read? No one fails to pick this one.

Con­sid­er­ing where they started, the Utah Supreme Court de­serves credit for most im­proved. If they can do it, you can do it.

But who’s pro­duc­ing the best-de­signed court opin­ions in the coun­try? Maybe it’s an ob­vi­ous pick, but this court is al­most infallible—

The United States Supreme Court, of course.

  1. Gen­er­ously large page mar­gins. Un­ob­tru­sive header.

  2. Cen­tury font for body text.
    Jus­ti­fied text used with hyphenation.

  3. Un­der­stated sec­tion mark­ers, em­pha­sized with white space rather than bold or italic.

True, the mar­gins seen here are ne­ces­si­tated by the Supreme Court’s spe­cial “book­let” for­mat, which uses smaller pa­per than stan­dard. But this sim­ply demon­strates a point from max­ims of page lay­out: when you de­sign the text block prop­erly, the white space takes care of it­self. This book­let-sized text block is equally read­able on larger paper.

Prac­ti­tion­ers should note that in the Supreme Court, Times New Ro­man is for­bid­den. So if you’re prepar­ing your first pe­ti­tion, don’t wait till the night be­fore to read Rule 33(b) and find a font in the “Cen­tury fam­ily”, as it re­quires. There are some sys­tem fonts in the Cen­tury fam­ily, and pro­fes­sional-font op­tions as well.

“Wait—it looks like the Supreme Court is us­ing two spaces be­tween sen­tences.” It ap­pears so. But I’m not the type po­lice. As you’ve gath­ered by now, the goal of this book is to share the knowl­edge and tools you need to make your ty­pog­ra­phy bet­ter. But you get to de­cide what that means—and where to take it next.

And who knows? The Supreme Court might still switch to one space. Greater prece­dents have been over­turned. My am­i­cus brief is ready.

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