Telling Through Type: Typography and Narrative in Legal Briefs

37 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2010 Last revised: 29 Sep 2010

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: 2010


Most legal authors today self-publish, using basic word-processing software and letting the software’s default settings determine what their documents will look like when printed. As these settings are not optimized for legal texts, they do so at their peril. The default font Times New Roman, for example, as Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook warns, is "utterly inappropriate for long documents [such as] briefs."

Commentators have started urging a more deliberate approach to legal typography. Their suggestions, however, have been content-neutral, intended for all legal texts and focused on goals such as legibility and readability.

Typography, however, has much greater potential. The shapes, the spacing, of letters and of words can reinforce, complement, and independently create narrative meaning. Or, intentionally or unintentionally, it can cut against it. It can do its work honestly and ethically, or inappropriately and subversively. This article explores how.

Keywords: Typography, Narrative, Persuasion, Rhetoric, Judicial Decisionmaking, Graphic Design

Suggested Citation

Kiernan-Johnson, Derek H., Telling Through Type: Typography and Narrative in Legal Briefs (2010). Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors, Vol. 7, p. 87, Fall 2010, U of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper , Available at SSRN:

Derek H. Kiernan-Johnson (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School ( email )

401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States
(303) 492-5863 (Phone)


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