Fonts

Every couple of months, I get a legal technology newsletter that mentions the Word vs. WordPerfect debate. It’s not so much a debate as it is a handful of lawyers arguing with everyone that WordPerfect is better than Word. I’ve had this discussion in person multiple times before as well. A few months ago, an attorney tried to convince me that WordPerfect is better because you can press ctrl+c and ctrl+v to copy and then paste text. People usually bring up that federal courts require proposed orders to be in WordPerfect format (although this is no longer true). No matter what the argument is, there is usually some name calling.

WordPerfect is like Latin. It’s dead and used only by lawyers. When I see people arguing why WordPerfect should still exist, I always picture that person as someone who still has a Gore/Lieberman bumper sticker on their car. It’s over. Decisively over. It is the betamax of word processing software. It has lost the race.

Most people have moved on from WordPerfect for the same reason that language was invented in the first place: to communicate with others. You cannot share .wpd files with people outside your office. Unless you represent Corel, your client probably has Word. Sure you can open a .wpd in Word or save a WordPerfect file as a Word document, but the formatting is so screwed up that it’s usually unusable as a pleading. And, sure you can save it as a .pdf, but then you might as well print it and scan it.

Here are the arguments that I see every time on this issue:

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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….

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Keith Lee

Everyone is familiar with the saying that you only get one chance to make a first impression. We size people up at a glance. People like to think that they take time to adequately weigh decisions, but in reality we often rely on “thin-slicing,” as popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in Blink (affiliate link):

“Thin-slicing refers to the ability of our unconscious mind to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience. The unconscious works by sifting through the situation in front of you, parsing out irrelevant data and homing in on what really matters.”

What this means is that we are constantly making micro-decisions at a subconscious level about the world around us all the time. Now, that doesn’t mean we are always making good decisions or judgments, but we are making them. Which is why lawyers need to care about how they appear — in person and in print.

And from a filed Answer in a lawsuit that a reader sent me, it’s a lesson that one lawyer needs to learn….

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[W]e note that the document appears to be in 12 point font, not 13 point font. I’m pretty sure this specific topic was a point of discussion among all counsel prior to filing our respective briefs, and each party appeared to recognize the continuing 13-point font requirement.

Thus, we were surprised to receive the State’s 12-point font brief. The apparent failure to comply with the Court’s order had the effect of substantially increasing the State’s page limitations and, under the circumstances, prejudices the United States.

Bradley Heard, a lawyer with the Department of Justice, in a weekend email sent to a group of attorneys from Bancroft. The firm represents South Carolina in an ongoing dispute with the DOJ over the state’s voter ID law.

(Was there a resolution in this case of prejudice by font?)

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Small Firms, Big Lawyers, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

If you want to send a message that you really don’t care what your document looks like, or that you never really gave it any thought, then this is the font for you. It might mean that you don’t really understand computers very well, and never bothered to learn how to change the default font. It probably also means that you never took a moment to consider the judge (or the client or whoever is reading what you wrote) and how she will have to slog through yet another gray document filled with too-small text that looks like every other one she’s read today.

But mostly it just means that you’re apathetic, and that you don’t consider what you write to be work worthy of craftsmanship.

So what is this font that says so much about you, and what should you use instead?

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