What font do lawyers use and does it matter?  That question was taken up by the Wall Street Journal this week in an amusing article entitled Font Wars.

Though dozens (possibly hundreds) of font options exist for the practicing attorney, the article focused primarily on the two most-often used typefaces: Times New Roman and Calibri.

Lawyers who preferred the former were described as “traditionalist” while those who used the latter were portrayed as more contemporary.

A married couple, both lawyers, was jokingly described as having “irreconcilable differences when it comes to the fine print.”

The husband, who preferred Times New Roman told the WSJ

It’s an authoritative script…and makes sentences appear composed by a grown-up.

His wife, on the other hand, advocated for Calibri by saying

[W]e’ve got to be progressive, we’ve got to move forward, we’ve got to embrace the modern age.  Calibri has a much more contemporary feel to it.

Lately, this disagreement has gone beyond each attorney’s personal preference, and government agencies are beginning to impose typeface requirements for their documents.

In January 2023, the state department directed its employees to drop Times New Roman and write all agency documents using Calibri.  The agency’s justification was that

Fonts like Times New Roman have serifs or decorative angular features that can introduce accessibility issues for individuals with disabilities.

A similar requirement—mandating Calibri font on all documents—has been imposed in New Jersey’s state courts as well as the U.K. Supreme Court.

Thankfully, no such requirement exists in Massachusetts.   Indeed, the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure clearly state that

No technical forms of pleading or motions are required.

Mass.R.Civ.Pro. Rule 8(e)

Despite this, the font and the appearance of a litigant’s pleadings are important.  As noted by Professor Bryan Garner, editor of Black’s Law Dictionary,

There’s a lot more to learn about typography than more lawyers realize.  Or want to realize.  When someone starts talking about…serifed typefaces, most lawyers tune out…Yet these matters are anything but trivial.  As magazine and book publishers well know, design is critical to a publication’s success.  Of course, it won’t make up for poor content.  But poor design can certainly mar good content.

Legal Writing in Plain English, page 123

Professor Garner’s advice (which bucks the Calibri trend) is to:

Use a readable serifed typeface that resembles what you routinely see in good magazines and books.  (A serifed typeface is one that has small finishing strokes jutting from the ends of each character.

For examples, he uses Times New Roman and Palatine fonts.

Above all, he cautions

What you’ll especially want to avoid is the traditional typeface for typewriters: Courier.  It’s blocklike and rather crude-looking.

Though I (a traditionalist to the core) prefer Times New Roman, I appreciate the sentiments of one jolly-looking attorney interviewed by the WSJ.  The lawyer, Jerry Geiger, told the WSJ that

he frets over the appearance of his legal briefs, from margin sizes to line spacing. He prefers Georgia and Century School Book typefaces for their elegance. “You dress up when you go to court,” he said. “Why do you look good? Does it matter? I think it does, and so it is with the written word.”