Review: Typography for Lawyers

Typography for Lawyers by Matthew Butterick

Last September, I came across the eminently useful website, Typography for Lawyers. As a college student who fled screaming from the Political Science department into the English department (possibly the best decision I’ve ever made), I completely got it and I often use it as a reference. Well, used to use it—and that’s not because I’ve abandoned the website Typography for Lawyers, but because I’ve switched to the book Typography for Lawyers.

Naturally, a book entitled Typography for Lawyers is an introduction to typography for those in the legal profession—but it’s also useful for anyone who writes and produces a lot of documents, and wants to make sure their document stands out in the best way possible. As Matthew Butterick puts it, typography is important because your writing is important; why sell yourself short? To that end, Butterick provides plenty of visual examples, rules, standards, and other ways to make your writing look the best it possibly can.

As I said in my first post about Typography for Lawyers, I love exploring this sort of thing. The only obstacle between my text and the reader is the presentation, so I want to make that as smooth as humanly possible. I can’t tell you how many blogs I immediately abandon because of their cluttered design and odd, outdated presentation—and Butterick encounters the same thing when he’s faced with a legal brief whose author apparently wants people to lose interest. f a reader has finite attention, Butterick argues, why make it easier for the reader to put your hard work down? Typography for Lawyers is by no means for the already entrenched typographers; instead, it’s a reference book that explains the essentials and shows you how best to utilize it in your life.

Truth be told, I’m always a little wary when I review a reference book (…have I reviewed a reference book before?); how exactly do you go about that? But Typography for Lawyers is beyond useful, even if you’re not a lawyer. I, for instance, never knew that system fonts (the fonts that come with your computer) aren’t optimized for print, but for reading onscreen. (In hindsight, though, that should have been pretty obvious. Then again, so should never underlining anything these days.) Butterick is very patient but never long-winded; here, his legal training really helps the book. And, to his credit, he taught me how to remove the function in Pages that turns web addresses into infuriatingly clickable, blue, and underlined links—truly, a boon to my academic papers from here to eternity.

Like any good nonfiction writer, Butterick admits to his biases. After a certain point, some elements of typography become personal stylistic choices, such as the choice of font, which most people tend to assume is the domain of the typographer. (It’s only scratching the surface.) While there’s a huge difference between, say, a block font and a script font, I couldn’t really pick out the differences between Palantino and Palantino Nova—which is why Butterick’s font samples chapter is so useful; Butterick offers three different alternatives to system fonts you’re already acquainted with, such as Times New Roman or even the dreaded Arial, which Butterick despises. After finishing Typography for Lawyers (because I read reference books straight through), I was able to pick out some of the more subtle designs, although I don’t think my eye for fonts will evolve beyond rolling my eyes at Papyrus. (There’s a handful of local businesses that use it. My skin, she crawls.)

But at the end of the day, Typography for Lawyers is, while certainly accessible to non-lawyers such as myself, aimed at lawyers. Perhaps that’s why it’s so accessible; Butterick knows he’s writing for people working with deadlines, so instead of focusing on the finer points of typography, he explains how to set a style sheet in your word processor so that you don’t have to worry about it when writing something in the dead of the night. Butterick talks about working with and around the various style books lawyers have to stick to, as well as what is and is not kosher in certain courts. It’s a fantastic introduction to typography for everyone, but those in the legal profession will find it more useful than I, a writer and book blogger, do. I do find it ridiculously useful and will undoubtedly refer to my copy again and again; if you don’t think you will, take a peek at the website Typography for Lawyers and discover what you’ve been doing wrong. (I discovered the actual difference between an en-dash and an em-dash while reading this book, so don’t take it personally.) And, as we’re in the thick of the holiday season, It’s certainly a great gift idea for those in the legal profession and those people who need a gentle nudge into the modern era of typography.

Bottom line: A fantastic introduction to typography aimed firmly at the legal profession, but useful for anyone who spends a lot of time writing and presenting documents.

I received a free copy of this book for promotional purposes.

2 thoughts on “Review: Typography for Lawyers

  1. The other day I was in need of a reference book and couldn’t remember the name of this one. I just kept thinking lawyers but it wasn’t connecting. This is me saying thanks. 🙂

  2. Oh, Papyrus. I used to read this website that was, like, Stuff Christian Culture Likes, and Papyrus was definitely on there.

    I watched a documentary all about Helvetica (Arial) font earlier this year. I expected it to be boring, and then, yes! It was totally boring! I could not believe how many people they found to interview who said that the invention of Helvetica was a FONT WATERSHED and they loved it because it was so versatile and elegant. This looks like a much more interesting book.

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