That’s the only conclusion you can reach after reading the court’s new guide to typography. The federal rules say remarkably little about typeface, and the Seventh Circuit was having none of that vagueness. But instead of making a simple, concrete rule to guarantee that lawyers submit something that won’t make the judges — or their clerks — bleed profusely from the eyes, they churned out seven pages of pedantically detailed instructions. They even explain the difference between 12-point and 14-point fonts using many more words than “the second one is bigger.” Apparently the Seventh Circuit cares more about encouraging clean typefaces than efficient writing.
If you’re practicing in the Seventh Circuit, you need to read this curmudgeonly tract — and if you’re not, you can just giggle….
UPDATE (12/12/2014, 7:38 p.m.): A former Seventh Circuit clerk tells us that the guide is not new (contrary to what one source, an appellate lawyer, told us). Oh well, it’s new to us (and perhaps to some of our readers).
The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure discuss typefaces in Rule 32:
(5) Typeface. Either a proportionally spaced or a monospaced face may be used.
(A) A proportionally spaced face must include serifs, but sans-serif type may be used in headings and captions. A proportionally spaced face must be 14-point or larger.
(B) A monospaced face may not contain more than 10 1/2 characters per inch.
(6) Type Styles. A brief must be set in a plain, roman style, although italics or boldface may be used for emphasis. Case names must be italicized or underlined.
Pretty straightforward. Basically don’t file anything hideous. It’s hard to understand why anyone would still accept something with a monospaced font, but whatever. Well, the Seventh Circuit thought its lawyers could use some more instruction:
This sentence is in a proportionally spaced font; as you can see, the m and i have different widths.This sentence is in a monospaced font; as you can see, the m and i have the same width.
Serifs are small horizontal or vertical strokes at the ends of the lines that make up the letters and numbers. The next line shows two characters en-larged for detail. The first has serifs, the second does not.
Is anyone incapable of knowing this stuff after playing with Word for about 20 seconds?
Type must be large enough to read comfortably. For a monospaced face, this means type approximating the old “pica” standard used by typewriters, 10 characters per horizontal inch, rather than the old “elite” standard of 12 characters per inch. Because some computer versions of monospaced type do not come to exactly 10 characters per inch, Rule 32(a)(5)(B) allows up to 101⁄2 per inch, or 72 characters (including punctuation and spaces) per line of type.
Proportionally spaced characters vary in width, so a limit of characters per line is not practical. Instead the rules require a minimum of 12-point type. Circuit Rule 32 permits the use of 12-point type in text and 11-point type in footnotes; Fed. R. App. P. 32(a)(5)(A) standing alone would have required you to use 14-point type throughout.
Well surely they trust lawyers to figure out points? Nope.
But there’s one font you probably want to avoid before the Seventh Circuit:
Typographic 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. Achieving that goal requires a different approach—different typefaces, different column widths, different writing conventions. Briefs are like books rather than newspapers. The most important piece of advice we can offer is this: read some good books and try to make your briefs more like them.
Yes, Times New Roman is lame. We’ve covered this before. But just go ahead and say, “All briefs must be in either New Baskerville, Book Antiqua, Calisto, Century, Century Schoolbook, or Bookman Old Style and must be 14-point,” instead of forcing lawyers to read Typography for Dummies. As it reads, the document purports to offer lawyers all sort of latitude in drafting briefs, and then painstakingly closes off all that latitude by ripping all the fonts they don’t like. Just go ahead and say what you mean!
In the meantime, file your next brief in Wingdings. They’ll love it.
To read the entire “Seventh Circuit Guide To Writin’ Good,” it’s on the next page and is as thrilling as watching the movie Helvetica….