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Yes, font choice is important

Does font choice matter in writing an appellate brief? YES! If you don’t believe that, read the U.S. Seventh Circuit’s recent decision in AsymaDesign, LLC v. CBL & Associates Management, Inc., No. 23-2495 (7th Cir. June 3, 2024), starting with the last paragraph on page 4.1 There, Judge Easterbrook urges lawyers to follow the Seventh Circuit’s advice on typography for briefs, (found here and here). Why?

Judges are long-term consumers of lengthy texts. To present an argument to such people, counsel must make the words easy to read and remember. The fonts recommended in our Handbook and Typography for Lawyers promote the goals of reading, understanding, and remembering. Display faces such as Bodoni or Bernhard Modern wear out judicial eyes after just a few pages and make understanding harder.
[Id. at 6–7.]

What prompted Judge Easterbrook’s sermonette on fonts? The appellant’s counsel in AsymaDesign filed a brief written in Bernhard Modern., “a display face suited to movie posters and used in the title sequence of the Twilight Zone TV show.” Id. at 5. That font has a low x height (the ratio of a lower-case x to the capital letters), elongated ascenders, and short descenders, “not characteristics that conduce to easy reading of long passages.” Id. at 5. To drive home his point, Judge Easterbrook put two paragraphs of his opinion in 16-point Bernhard Modern, to contrast it with the 12-point Palatino Linotype used elsewhere in his opinion. See id. at 6

What, then, should lawyers use instead of something like Bernhard Modern? Simple: “Use the most legible face available to you. Experiment with several, then choose the one you find easiest to read.” Id. at 5. There are at least two objective criteria for deciding which font is more legible than another:

  • Look for a font with a taller x-height, i.e., where a lower-case x is taller in relation to a capital letter. According to the Seventh Circuit, x height makes “the Bookman and Century families ... preferable to faces in the Garamond and Times families.”
  • Looks for a font with good contrast. To my extremely myopic eyes, Cambria has good contrast; Garamond doesn’t.

For further guidance, take a look at Matthew Butterick’s assessment of system fonts. They’re not his first choice—he prefers professional fonts such as his own Equity, used by the U.S. Fifth Circuit. But if you’re stuck with system fonts, then following Butterick’s suggestions will likely make your brief easier to read than your opponent’s.


Hat tip to my colleague Aaron G. McLeod, a proud user of Equity.


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