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Formatting in legal documents

Let’s talk about four kinds of formatting used and misused in legal documents: all-caps, typefaces, boldface, and underlining.

(1) Underlining was used for years for case names and for emphasis because of typewriter limitations. I’m still surprised by the number of lawyers who still underline cases instead of italicizing them. Italics may also be used for emphasis but don’t overdo it.

(2) Typefaces (fonts) affect the readability of your work. The consensus is that you should use serif fonts for text and sans-serif fonts for headings. Serif has the little squiggles such as the y in happy. Sans-serif is more block-like. The Seventh Circuit’s seven-page Requirements and Suggestions for Typography in Briefs and Other Papers recommends any serif font for text that has the word “book” in it. (This is a great overview of document design and may be found at http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/.)

I use Bookman Old Style, Century Schoolbook, and Book Antigua all of which were included in Word for Mac. Many writers simply default to Times New Roman because that is their default font in their word-processing program. Times New Roman is a newspaper font that is shorter and more difficult to read in longer documents. Remember, most of your readers are older and may have difficulty reading. Make it easy for them.

(3) All-caps for emphasis or for titles and headings in legal documents is another hangover from typewriters. Two problems: it’s harder to read and IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING AT YOUR READER.

Ray Ward has a great suggestion for briefs and legal documents. For the title or name of the document and its case number he uses a boldface, sans-serif font that is slightly bigger. He leaves everything else in the font that he uses in the text of the document. It makes sense—you’re emphasizing the two things judges and clerks are looking for—what is it and where is it to be filed? Check his blog “the (new) legal writer” to see how this looks at http://raymondpward.typepad.com/newlegalwriter/2006/06/on_the_cover_of.html

(4) Boldface type works for headings instead of all-caps or initial caps.

Sources: Bryan A. Garner, The Redbook A Manual on Legal Style, (2nd ed. 2002); Raymond P. Ward, The Right Tool for the Job, Certworthy (Winter 2008) 16.

Posted on Jan 08, 2010 by James Covington | Comments (0)
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