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5 Things We Learned Today About Typography

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By Brian Kumnick on June 26, 2009 7:06 AM

Considering that many of them are essentially professional writers, lawyers are often surprisingly unconcerned with how their words look on the page. So today we're calling your attention to our new favorite website. The engrossing, appealingly geeky, and really useful Typography for Lawyers is doing all it can to obliterate the legal profession's most pressing problem: an unending parade of hideously ugly documents.

Typographer-turned-lawyer Matthew Butterick (yes, such people exist, and Butterick even insists he's not the only one) has built Typography for Lawyers into an impressive first course in font selection, page layout, and firm-yet-helpful rules for properly formatting a document. And it's all aimed at attorneys, who will benefit from its simple but clear rules, without getting too bogged down in details.

Typography for Lawyers is laid out primarily as a series of short lessons on an array of typographical subjects, and covers topics both basic -- replacing straight quotes with curly quotes, for instance -- and advanced -- such as creating non-breaking spaces to keep related words together on one line.

You'll want to explore the site for yourself to get acquainted with all that it has to offer (and we guarantee that you'll learn something useful), but we will highlight a few favorites. Our top 5:
1. Put only one space between sentences. Apparently, double-spacing sentences is totally wrong and should never be done. We are still absorbing this rule after a lifetime of double-spacing.

2. Underlining is evil. Like the double-spaced sentence, underlining is apparently a workaround invented during the age of typewriters. Its only approved modern use, according to Butterick, is setting off hyperlinked text on a web page.

3. There is no good reason to use Times New Roman, and contrary to popular opinion, court rules rarely if ever actually require it.

4. The fonts that came with your operating system are optimized for the screen, not print. Plus, your word processor is probably cheating with those default fonts by, for instance, making them into a faux-small-caps font. You need to buy fonts that are optimized to look good in print.

5. Techniques like putting important text in ALL CAPS are more likely to cause someone not to read it. Small caps or even borders are considered superior ways to call out important information.

This advice just scratches the surface of what's here. If you're at all interested in what make the printed word stand out on the page, Typography for Lawyers is well worth a few minutes of your time.

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