5 Non-Times New Roman Fonts Courts Use in Their Opinions

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on November 26, 2014 11:57 AM

A while ago, we offered some advice on typography and typesetting, much of which we learned from reading Matthew Butterick's excellent book Typography for Lawyers. But we'd be remiss if we focused exclusively on the lawyer-end of readability. What about the courts? As the Seventh Circuit has made clear, it's thinking about typography and readability -- even as others aren't.

Here are some good (and not so good) alternatives to Times New Roman (TNR) we've seen in court opinions.

Palatino

This slim, sophisticated font is my current favorite for court documents. It's a default Windows font, so everyone in the office will have it. Unlike TNR, it has a certain je ne se quoi zippiness to it. Palatino features prominently in the court system, with both the Second and Seventh using it in their opinions.

Century Schoolbook

The creme de la creme of legal fonts, Century Schoolbook is used by no less an authority than the U.S. Supreme Court. It's highly readable, yet commands an air of authority with letters that take up more space than TNR. In addition to the Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit uses Century Schoolbook. So does the Fifth Circuit, but with much smaller page margins that don't look as good, and I think we can agree that margins are half the battle.

Courier (and Courier New)

Ugh. Courier. Unfortunately, many courts haven't yet received the memo stating that we don't use typewriters anymore. (And yet, according to Butterick, more than a few courts still require briefs to be submitted in a fixed width font like Courier.) In the First and Fourth Circuit Courts of Appeals, the judicial panels don't all use the same fonts for their opinions, so some end up in Courier -- and they're justified, which sort of obviates the purpose of Courier in the first place.

Lucida Sans Typewriter

The Supreme Court giveth, and the Supreme Court taketh away. Sure, its opinions are beautifully rendered in Century Schoolbook, but if you look at the Court's daily order list, it's set in some weird computer terminal-looking font. What gives? That font is Lucida Sans Typewriter, and we have no idea why they opted for this font for its orders -- even among the other available monospace fonts, like Courier or Lucida Console, the more recent variant of Lucida Sans Typewriter. (We invite the Clerk of the Court to explain, though.)

Garamond

Yup, the Supreme Court of Arkansas bucked the TNR trend and decided to use Garamond as the font for its opinions. In addition to having an old timey kind of feel to it (fitting, because Garamond was designed in the 15th century), the U.S. General Services Administration named it one of three "toner-efficient" fonts, along with TNR and Century Gothic. Arkansas proves that you can have style and still save the planet.

Have you seen any good (or bad) typography in court opinions? Let us know via Twitter (@FindLawLP) or Facebook (FindLaw for Legal Professionals).

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