You Can Call Connecticut "The Sanserif State"

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Practice Book, Rules of Appellate Procedure, 67-2(a):

Only the following two typefaces, of 12 point or larger size, are approved for use in briefs: arial and univers.

Quite unusual, in my experience.

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  1. I have been okay with courts suggesting 14 point Times New Roman, as it is the standard for the US State Department. Page limits in rules seem to be inferior to word count limits (with exceptions for in forma pauperis litigants who might not have access to technology). As I have passed fifty years of age, I have embraced the virtues of large print and lots of white space, on the theory that judges (appellate especially) have eyes as old as mine and might want to add notes in the margins (if they like hard copy).

  2. Serif typefaces are more readable than sans-serif. San-serif typefaces are more legible than serif. The challenge in a legal brief is more likely to be readability than legibility. Whether it matters if all writers are typographically handicapped alike, who knows?

    Other factors also contribute to readability. Optimizing typography (within standards, of course) increases credibility, however subtly. The general graphical principle is that no typographic decision should draw specific focus from the reader. Everything should look as if it could not have been done any other way. I have never heard of a law firm employing a professional typographer, but have long thought it was a missed opportunity. Perfectly typeset material is more convincing. That is why the advertising industry spends heavily to get it.

    1. This is all completely silly.

      I mean, if you want legibility, font size is the important variable. As for everything else you said, judges and their clerks are intelligent people who evaluate cases based on arguments, not fonts.

      1. Loathe as I am to admit it, I think Stephen Lathrop is basically correct here. Sure, I’d rather have binding precedent that says I win than perfectly justified margins, but presenting judges with a clean and professional product is more effective than turning in a pile of crap, even if there are helpful authorities in the pile. And typography is both an important component of making your writing look professional, and one that’s often underappreciated in our profession.

    2. “Serif typefaces are more readable than sans-serif.”

      You’re oversimplifying. Serifs aid readability in block text. They don’t help in standalone text. The word “STOP” doesn’t have serifs on a stop sign because they aren’t needed… the shape and color of the sign tell you what it says before you even get around to reading the word, and people who can’t read can recognize a stop sign.

      That said, of course, a legal brief consists almost entirely of block text. A serif font would tend to reduce eyestrain for people who spend all day reading them.

    3. I have consulted several dictionaries, and all define legible as “readable”.

  3. Be informed by The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (Graphics Press, 1983) by Edward R. Tufte. It’s not about typography but about graphical communication. It’s been some years since I read my dog-eared copy, but I recall his watchword as, Use No Meaningless Pixel.

    A dictionary regards legible and readable as synonymous.

    1. Dilan, like many lawyers, you sometimes display the arrogance of your ignorance. I have not criticized you for that previously. In those instances, although I recognized your weakness, I had no claim to better authority. In this instance, I do. I worked for years doing advertising typography, in the best typographic houses in New England. In one of them, I was in charge of quality control. Our clients were mostly national brands, and the advertising agencies they relied upon. With regard to type, you do not know what you are talking about. Leave it at that.

    2. Doug, Tufte is a great resource. But your dictionary has misinformed you.

      Here is information someone choosing typefaces might benefit by: Legibility is the eye-chart test. At what distance can you distinguish a single character? In general, sans-serif font works best for that. They average bolder than serif fonts, mostly because there is less variation in line weights in sans-serif designs. Bolder means better distinguishability, when size and distance are held constant. That is fine on an eye chart, but can be a disadvantage for reading masses of text—more per-letter focus means words become subtly less coherent. Also, there are times—in the use of sub-scripts and super-scripts, for instance—where the uniformity and boldness of sans-serif tends to draw too much focus to type elements which may have been reduced in size deliberately, to reduce focus.

      Readability is a combination of properties which facilitate reading masses of text. Serif fonts are frequently better for that because of several typically-shared characteristics. More variation in line weights is an important one. That variability encodes more information, which in turn gives more-distinctive shapes to the negative spaces between letter pairs. That property helps to give whole words distinctive shapes, making them more visually coherent, and quickly recognizable. Sans-serif fonts do that too, but less so. Serif fonts do it better. Also, because serif fonts usually put less ink on the page for comparable type size, pages which feature text on both sides deliver less visual bleed-through from through-the-page transparency. Serif fonts are also more flexibly adjustable with regard to global inter-character spacing. That in turn facilitates optimized justification. Serif fonts also better support individual letter-pair spacing adjustments, called kerning, which enable optimized spacing down to fairly small sizes. Kerning becomes more important, and even critically important, as type scales up, to make larger sub-heads and headlines more readable. You can kern sans-serif fonts, and to optimize them you must, but you almost always get a better graphical result with serif fonts.

      There is more, of course, but I hope that is enough to suggest your dictionary guys could have done better.

      1. Legibility is the eye-chart test.

        So far as I can tell, you invented that definition. legō means “read”. While it would not be impossible for a word to drift semantically from meaning “read” to “recognize one character from a distance”, I don’t believe the word has done so.

  4. I know we’re all sick of Times New Roman but this is an overreaction.

    (Nowadays I use Fairfield Medium, when I can get away with it. TNR tends to look washed out when scanned.)

    1. What was wrong with Times Old Roman?

      1. Like I said, it tends to look washed out when scanned. This was not a problem years ago but we are now in the era of pdf. Also with the switch to Word (from WordPerfect) formatting is less sophisticated and less flexible, so font becomes more important.

        Fairfield looks bold (even though it isn’t). Also I do believe judges are influenced unconsciously. The font does affect how they view the attorney and, by extension, his argument. Why deny it? The importance of presentation, and the eliciting of the resulting responses, conscious or not, has long been recognized in every other field.

      2. What was wrong with Times Old Roman?

        Nothing. If your objective is to print books compactly, while saving on costly ink and paper. Times Old Roman has a small x-height, typical of most older type designs.

        Times New Roman increased the x-height, and got a readability boost at the expense of becoming less compact, and requiring increased leading.

        1. Sorry I misread the comment.

      3. “What was wrong with Times Old Roman?”

        Well, for starters, it was just “Times Roman”.

  5. I’m tempted to use Helvetica just to see if they’ll notice.

  6. I’ve never submitted a brief in Comic Sans, but I’m also inordinately curious as to what would happen if I did.

    1. Maybe John Dowd can offer some insight.

    2. Do not submit a brief using the Chiller or Bleeding Cowboy fonts.

      If the judge is a fan of the movie Avatar you might try Papyrus.

    3. I’m not a fan of the death penalty, but I believe it would be Constitutional and appropriate in this case.

  7. This is not a matter of personal taste. It has been known for over a century that serif typefaces are easier to read than sans-serif ones. Look up the work of Benjamin Sherbow, for example. Many studies by direct marketing (print ads, direct mail) advertising agencies have shown the same— easier to read, less fatiguing, and therefore more persuasive. The less a judge has to work to read a brief, the more brain power he has to understand it, and perhaps he will be subliminally influenced by the writer’s consideration in choosing a face to ease his work.

  8. Older folks will remember the surprise of discovering, successively, the increased persuasiveness their text acquired at each transition, when it went from hand script, to type script, to proportionally-spaced type. For most people, most of the time, that is where the graphical optimization ended. But when it was needed, professional typography was always available, to deliver one more graphical optimization upgrade. And for some work, that last added at least as much benefit as any of the others.

    Legal briefs, by and large, always stop short of that last optimization, and sacrifice the persuasiveness it could add.

    1. I agree.

      One reason full justification is such a turnoff is because word processors space the words but not the letters. So you get those distracting empty spaces between words. This doesn’t happen with books which are made with more sophisticated software. For us lawyers, “ragged right” is the better choice because it’s more readable.

  9. Typefaces can be, and are, copyrighted. In fact, both Arial and Univers are currently copyrighted.

    1. Are you sure? I thought copyright orthodoxy was that typefaces as such aren’t copyrightable (though font software would be), see 37 CFR sec. 202.1 and Copyright Office Circular 33.

    2. According to Wikipedia
      Intellectual property protection of typefaces
      Design patents. Typefaces may be protected by a design patent in many countries (either automatically, by registration, or by some combination thereof). A design patent is the strongest system of protection, but the most uncommon. It is the only US legal precedent that protects the actual design (the design of the individual shapes of the letters)…

      WP and other sources rank Copyright as very difficult to apply to typefaces or typefonts which are , but the Trademark name assigned to a face can be trademarked (which is why versions of Helvetica have appeared as Swiss or Eterna). points out “The Copyright Office considers typefaces to be mere variations of un-copyrightable letters or words, which are “the building blocks of expression” and therefore not protectable by a single owner.”

      I worked in the typesetting department at Kingsport Press 1969-2004 and I will say The Monotype Corporation vigorously defended its trademarked font names as trademarks not as copyrights.

      1. To fine tune this a bit, with ambiguity: you can copyright the Postscript font code used to generate character images of a typeface on a computer screen or typesetting device as software, but you cannot copyright the typeface letter images.

        One exception was a font with graphic images representing the letters, eg a stylized llama critter in the shape of an L for the letter L, which was more than just a variation of the letter L but an artwork.

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