For years I have fought a losing battle with clients on the subject of typography– making their documents look better. Corporations spend millions on branding, logos, and so on. Law firms are increasingly spending tens of thousands of dollars (if not more) on flashing web sites as a form of marketing. And a lot of money is spent on business cards, letterhead, etc.
So why use Courier 10? Or even the all-purpose, invisible font, Times Roman? Unless, of course you espouse the reasoning of a major law firm which once told me “we use Courier because we want a document written in 1890 to be indistinguishable from a document written in 1990.” Well, that is a rationale.
If a firm uses a font which is still business-like, but slightly distinctive, clients will, over time, subliminally recognize those documents. This is a way of “branding” a law firm – perhaps not as flashy as business cards or web sites, but it does serve the same purpose. The client thinks the work product “looks good” and this reflects on the client’s perception of the firm’s professionalism.
A recent entertaining take on the topic is Mike O’Sullivan’s “Why Our Agreements Look Like Crap”
He also points to the extremely valuable web site “Typography for Lawyers.”
One common objection is that “the courts require” Courier or Times Roman. It turns out that this is simply not the case in many instances. See the “Court Rules” page on Typography for lawyers. As any lawyer should know, “e.g.” (for exempli gratia) means “for example.” So when a court rule (California Federal, Northern District) says that type “may not be smaller than 12-point standard font (e.g. Times New Roman)” that means Times New Roman is only one example (among many). Now granted, specific judges may be more restrictive, but the rules say different.
One way to find a font you like is to look at the back page of any book you think is particularly readable. Many books have “a note on the type” at the very back of the book (although this practice seems to be declining). You will see that many of the most common type faces were in fact originally designed in the 17th or 18th century – Janson, Caslon, Garamond (16th century) , Baskerville, and so on. They have remained popular because they “work” – they are legible and look nice.
Personally, I generally use Baskerville in my correspondence and Caslon in my documentation.