A New Font For Law Letters?
December 7, 2005 12:48 PM   Subscribe

Help me chose a font for my legal correspondences: I love Optima, but it's hard to read in multiline paragraphs, and is a tad too modern. Isn't there something more distinctive than Times Roman? Bonus points in the font is already on my Powerbook.
posted by ParisParamus to Computers & Internet (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: um..if the font is already...
posted by ParisParamus at 12:49 PM on December 7, 2005

Well, it might not be on your powerbook, but Palatino is available for free (as in not legally ripped off by being bitmapped and revectored, but really free -- at least they're free with ghostscript, which is GNU, which means they'd better be free [search for URW-fonts]). It's my favourite serif font.
posted by shepd at 12:55 PM on December 7, 2005

I'm fond of Georgia for serif fonts and work-related things. I'm pretty sure it comes standard on both PC and Mac.
posted by booknerd at 1:02 PM on December 7, 2005

A font may be something you want invest in order to distinguish your correspondence papers from competitors or simply to aid in legibility. There are many options that would fit this criteria but I'm guessing for long legal documents you will want an inviting serif. Celeste is one option of many. You can find it here. My caveat is that if you want something really well designed a family may cost in the neighborhood of $100+.
posted by quadog at 1:08 PM on December 7, 2005

Try Cochin.
posted by mcwetboy at 1:17 PM on December 7, 2005


(Don't print Georgia.)
posted by Firas at 1:22 PM on December 7, 2005

I like Hoefler Text, which comes with OS X.
posted by bpt at 1:23 PM on December 7, 2005

I kind of like Goudy Old Style...maybe a bit too similar to Times New Roman, though...but it should be on your powerbook (it's on mine).
posted by johnsmith415 at 1:23 PM on December 7, 2005

Seconding Garamond. It's just a touch old-fashioned and lends a gravity to any legal document.
posted by kindall at 1:26 PM on December 7, 2005

I'd third Garamond. Goudy is beautiful but a bit too open to be "serious" and Cochin, while one of my favorite faces, has an italic that is probably too pretty for legal docs.

My current favorite serif face is Wessex or, actually, maybe it's Whitman. Yeah, Whitman. For right now.
posted by papercake at 1:39 PM on December 7, 2005

(of course you'd have to pay for either Wessex or Whitman)
posted by papercake at 1:40 PM on December 7, 2005

I used to use Book Antiqua a lot. Might be a Windows thing though. But I've been told anything with "Book" is good for printing. (Garamond is nice too.)

Then again, the law office I worked in used Arial for everything.
posted by SuperNova at 1:41 PM on December 7, 2005

Isn't Garamond pretty much a screen font?
posted by delmoi at 1:41 PM on December 7, 2005

Seconding Garamond. It's just a touch old-fashioned and lends a gravity to any legal document.

I personally feel it's too old-fashion and veers in the cheesy range. Georgia is similar, but more 'serious'. But really, if you're going to be printing, make sure to print out samples and compare, because there's a huge difference between fonts for the screen and fonts for paper. Times New Roman really looks great on paper, but really boring on the screen. Verdana looks great on the screen, but on paper? (I'm not sure if I remember seeing anything printed in veranda, though.)
posted by delmoi at 1:45 PM on December 7, 2005

Wow. No, not at all. Half the books you read are probably printed in Garamond or something like it. It's an old font -- teh computer version is based on letterforms Garamond created in the 16th century. His designs are considered classic and are still in use today.
posted by kindall at 1:48 PM on December 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

Garamond was going to be my suggestion too.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:57 PM on December 7, 2005

Maybe Palatino would be a good compromise...it seems to be somewhere between Times New Roman and Garamond.

delmoi: I just printed a bunch of my notes out in Verdana...it looks really horrible. Very legible, but ugly as hell.
posted by johnsmith415 at 2:03 PM on December 7, 2005

Hoefler Text has lovely capitals and numeric sorts, but its italics are a bit too flouncy for my tastes. It's probably best used as a display font, but hey, if you want to take advantage of the fonts you already have... (I'm assuming you're running a recent version of Mac OS X.)
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:04 PM on December 7, 2005

Garamond is excellent, a bit more "distinguished looking" than Time Roman, but subtly so. It can print out spidery, so set your printer for maximum density.

Palatino is fine, but it's enough different from TR to call attention to itself.

I wouldn't use Optima. It's halfway between serif and sans-serif and, once again, calls attention to itself.

I like Bodoni Book, which I find easy to read. It's a little smaller on the body than TR, so you should use it a point larger than TR -- 13 pt. instead of 12, or 11 instead of 10. It's also a bit narrower on average than TR, so it won't trake up extra space.

Many of the courts use Century, whch is very legible and has a distinguished, formal character.
posted by KRS at 2:13 PM on December 7, 2005

Also, haven't Apple pretty much phased out Garamond? I certainly don't have it on my iBook as one of the default fonts, and this suggests that, if it's anywhere in Mac OS X, it's 'hidden under a different name' and has to be extracted.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:16 PM on December 7, 2005

I did my resume in Palatino and have been complimented on it, FWIW. It works well when you want that different-but-not-very-different effect and it maintains readablity compared to Times New Roman, IMO - everyone is just so used to Times New Roman, after all. I agree that Georgia doesn't work well as document body text - lower readability and less easy to quickly scan through a document than with Times New Roman or Palatino (I don't particularly like it on screen either, other than for headings).

Sans-Serif fonts for document body text are just not an option.

IANAGD, just a Palatino fanboy.
posted by normy at 2:17 PM on December 7, 2005

I love Garamondesque fonts when doing numerical work: the variable line heights make differentiating figures easy. Arial has to be one of the all-time worst choices for a default font for Excel.
posted by bonehead at 2:25 PM on December 7, 2005

The 7th Circuit web page has Requirements And Suggestions For Typography In Briefs And Other Papers (pdf), which, although intended to assist lawyer submitting briefs to the court, has some useful information and suggestions about the use of typefaces in legal documents:
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 ocument 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.…

Both the Supreme Court and the Solicitor General use Century. Professional typographers set books in New Baskerville, Book Antiqua, Calisto, Century, Century Schoolbook, Bookman Old Style and many other proportionally spaced serif faces. Any face with the word “book” in its name is likely to be good for legal work. Baskerville, Bembo, Caslon, Deepdene, Galliard, Jenson, Minion, Palatino, Pontifex, Stone Serif, Trump Mediäval, and Utopia are among other faces de-
signed for use in books and thus suitable for brief-length presentations.
posted by andrewraff at 2:29 PM on December 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

Minion is my current favorite for such things.
posted by clh at 3:28 PM on December 7, 2005

Caslon is my default choice for long documents, but any in the last paragraph of andrewraff's quotation will work fine.
posted by letitrain at 3:35 PM on December 7, 2005

I like Schneidler for non-Times, non-Palatino, serif work.
posted by spacewrench at 3:59 PM on December 7, 2005

Response by poster: Wow. A font of information, this thread is. Thanks so much! Fonts are fascinating, particularly the fact that ones that work well for short segments of text--Optima, for example--fail with many lines of material.

I will get to experimenting, pronto!
posted by ParisParamus at 4:14 PM on December 7, 2005

I love Schneidler like nothing except Cochin -- can you tell I have a thing for gorgeous italics? -- but Schneidler's question mark is way too quirky for a legal brief, if lawyers use question marks even occasionally.

I would advise against Bookman Old Style -- yeah, it has "Book" in the title, but eesh, no.

If you want free, go for Palatino or Book Antiqua; you'll almost certainly have one or the other. And printed, it looks a tad classier than Georgia would (although Georgia is my default for assignments done on school computers) and less cutesy than Goudy Old Style. Garamonds are nice, but free versions of Garamond are usually utter crap, and look like it.

If you're willing to pay . . . well, when I think of a nice legal firm, I think Baskerville all the way. Very classy, old-fashioned (isn't a Baskerville what Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was done in? [and aren't I a freak for remembering this?]). It would look spot-on for legal correspondence in my book.

By the way, ParisParamus, if you think you have a lot of options now, go to Google or to a popular font site and search for "serif" (I'm simplifying, but it's the term for this category of fonts).
posted by booksandlibretti at 4:49 PM on December 7, 2005

Bembo is great too.
posted by Firas at 5:06 PM on December 7, 2005

If you're willing to spend $22, think about Janson, which is a particularly fine text font with a wonderful italic.

posted by KRS at 10:52 AM on December 8, 2005

I dunno. I think you should be looking at serif fonts or humanist sansserif fonts that were designed within the last two decades. I say this because you are going to be printing using inkjet or laser printers, for which many older fonts are really unsuited. Whereas a lot of fonts of more recent vintage are tested to look OK (heavy enough, no excessive ink trapping) on office printers.

That rules out Bembo (too-heavy stress leading to spindly strokes); Optima (which, like Eras, demands all the resolution you can possibly throw at it); Janson; Bembo (particularly risible due to the long-tailed R in typical PostScript versions); and really everything else mentioned here.

Why not something like, I dunno, Charter, Freight, Scala Sans? Indeed even Hoefler Text?
posted by joeclark at 12:02 PM on December 13, 2005

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