Telling Through Type: Typography and Narrative in Legal Briefs

36 Pages Posted: 29 Jul 2010

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: Fall 2010


Most lawyers today self-publish, using the same word-processing software they use for composition, and letting their software’s default settings determine their documents’ typography. Those settings, however, are not optimized for legal writing. And lawyers who rely on software defaults, especially in documents submitted to courts, do so at their peril.

This article explores one content-driven, context-specific way that typography might be used in legal briefs: to reinforce, complement, and independently create narrative meaning. Part I outlines those aspects of contemporary typography most germane to legal briefing. Part II offers six examples of how these principles might be used. The first few examples are “easy” cases - soft touches that are likely to be low risk, unlikely to offend, but mild in their potential impact - such as imitating Supreme Court typography or reflecting a law office’s brand identity through typeface choice. The next cases explore how, in ways perhaps more meaningful to authoring lawyers and their clients than to the judges who read their briefs, typography might further outsider narratives or reflect character and point of view. The fifth case suggests ways that typography might augment a brief’s narrative trajectory and help clothe a progressive legal argument in traditionalist clothing. The final example explores how typography might be used negatively (and perhaps inappropriately and unethically) to thwart an opposing party’s narrative goals and obscure the meaning of inconvenient facts and law.

Suggested Citation

Kiernan-Johnson, Derek H., Telling Through Type: Typography and Narrative in Legal Briefs (Fall 2010). Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors, Vol. 7, 2010, 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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