where do the rules come from?Professional typography

What peo­ple know about ty­pog­ra­phy can usu­ally be traced back to typ­ing-class teach­ers (or com­puter-lab teach­ers) and other un­re­li­able sources. I’m sure your teach­ers were lovely peo­ple, but they were there to teach you typ­ing (or BA­SIC pro­gram­ming), not ty­pog­ra­phy. And what they knew about ty­pog­ra­phy prob­a­bly came from their own typ­ing teach­ers 30 years ear­lier (see type­writer habits).

Be­yond that, law­yers have been known to be sus­cep­ti­ble to boil­er­plate syn­drome: the su­per­sti­tious re­fusal to de­vi­ate from the form or sub­stance of a doc­u­ment that was suc­cess­fully used by an­other law­yer, usu­ally some­time be­fore the Carter administration.

It’s not sur­pris­ing that bad ty­pog­ra­phy habits get passed along. What’s sur­pris­ing is how tena­cious they can be.

A core prin­ci­ple of this book is that ty­pog­ra­phy in le­gal doc­u­ments should be held to the same stan­dards as any pro­fes­sion­ally pub­lished ma­te­r­ial, like books, news­pa­pers, and mag­a­zines. There is no “le­gal ty­pog­ra­phy”. There is only typography.

This wasn’t al­ways true. Dur­ing the era when law of­fices re­lied on type­writ­ers, pro­fes­sional pub­lish­ers had type­set­ting and print­ing tech­nol­ogy that was sub­stan­tially bet­ter. So for law­yers, the ty­po­graphic stan­dards of pro­fes­sional pub­lish­ers were out of reach.

That’s no longer the case. Tech­nol­ogy has brought law-of­fice type­set­ting nearly up to the stan­dards of pro­fes­sional type­set­ting. Mod­ern word proces­sors and laser print­ers have made it pos­si­ble for law­yers to pro­duce doc­u­ments with ex­cel­lent typography.

There­fore, law­yers can and should raise their stan­dards. That’s why the rules here re­flect the cus­toms of pro­fes­sional ty­pog­ra­phers and the ma­jor­ity views of au­thor­i­ties on ty­pog­ra­phy, fil­tered through my ex­pe­ri­ence as a pro­fes­sional ty­pog­ra­pher and as a lawyer.

Do law­yers need to adopt every habit of pro­fes­sional ty­pog­ra­phers? No. I use pro­fes­sional ty­pog­ra­phy as a bench­mark for qual­ity, not as an all-or-noth­ing goal. When faced with a choice be­tween more con­sis­tency with pro­fes­sional ty­pog­ra­phy or less, I be­lieve law­yers should choose more consistency.

But I’m also a prag­ma­tist. I know the feel­ing of rush­ing to fin­ish a mo­tion an hour be­fore the dead­line. I as­sume that you want the best ty­po­graphic re­sults for the low­est cost—and noth­ing is more costly than your time. There­fore, I en­dorse a few short­cuts where the ef­fort out­weighs the results.

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