Students, would you like to make it easier for your professors to retain the information presented in your typed assignments, papers, briefs, and tests?
Professors, would like to retain more of the information that your students are presenting to you in their typed assignments, papers, briefs, and tests?
Then please read what the Seventh Circuit has to say about its “Requirements and Suggestions for Typography in Briefs and Other Papers.”
For starters, “[t]ypographic decisions should be made for a purpose. The Times of London chose the typeface Times New Roman to serve an audience looking for a quick read. Lawyers don’t want their audience to read fast and throw the document away; they want to maximize retention.”
Students don’t want their audience (professors) to read fast and throw the document away either. Maybe the fallback format requirements of “15 pages, double-spaced, Times New Roman, one inch margins” shouldn’t be the fallback? What else does the Seventh Circuit have to say about our old friend Times New Roman?
Professional typographers avoid using Times New Roman for book-length (or brief-length) documents. This face was designed for newspapers, which are printed in narrow columns, and has a small x-height in order to squeeze extra characters into the narrow space. Type with a small x-height functions well in columns that contain just a few words, but not when columns are wide (as in briefs and other legal papers). In the days before Rule 32, when briefs had page limits rather than word limits, a typeface such as Times New Roman enabled lawyers to shoehorn more argument into a brief. Now that only words count, however, everyone gains from a more legible typeface, even if that means extra pages.
So what typeface should we be using? The Seventh Circuit recommends a “proportionally spaced type.” What’s proportionally spaced type, you ask? “Proportionally spaced type uses different widths for different characters. . . . A monospaced face, by contrast, uses the same width for each character.”
Additionally the Seventh Circuit recommends “typefaces that were designed for books.” And what typefaces were designed for books? The obvious ones are the ones with “book” somewhere in the name. Examples of typefaces designed for books include “New Baskerville, Book Antiqua, Calisto, Century, Century Schoolbook, and Bookman Old Style.” Furthermore, “faces in the Bookman and Century families are preferable to faces in the Garamond and Times families.”
And what was that about Rule 32 and word limits instead of page limits? Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32(a)(7) allows principal briefs to exceed 30 pages if the brief “contains no more than 14,000 words” when the brief is accompanied by a certification by the attorney that the brief complies with the word limit.
I just checked my briefs and memos from my 1L Legal Writing classes and all of them were turned in with Times New Roman as the typeface and with a page limit. Maybe format requirements have changed in the two years since I took those classes. I know for a fact that some professors have gotten rid of the fallback format requirements. In my Copyright Seminar this semester, Professor Boyden’s format requirements mirror the Seventh Circuit’s recommendations: a proportionally spaced typeface and both a word limit and a page limit.
Instead of relying on the fallback format requirements, professors should allow students to use typeface selection to their advantage. A choice in typeface selection won’t be the difference between an A and a C, but, as the Seventh Circuit explains, “[y]ou can improve your chances by making your briefs typographically superior. It won’t make your arguments better, but it will ensure that judges grasp and retain your points with less struggle. That’s a valuable advantage, which you should seize.”