TBA Law Blog

Posted by: Lucille Jewel on Apr 6, 2021

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a memorandum discouraging attorneys from using the proportionally spaced Garamond font, but encouraging typefaces like Century and Times New Roman. The memorandum surfaced many spirited opinions within the appellate bar –– about fonts. While discussions about fonts can verge on pedantic, knowing something about fonts can help lawyers file briefs that are both easily readable and aesthetically pleasing.  

The first issue is the distinction between a monospaced font (like Courier or Courier New) or a proportional font (like Times New Roman, Century, or Garamond). The 6th Circuit’s guidelines, for instance, allow “a proportionally spaced font at 14 pt. (such as Times New Roman), or monospaced font not exceeding 10 1/2 characters per inch (such as Courier New at 12 point).” Letters in a proportionally spaced font take up differing amounts of space. The letter “I” takes up less space than the letter “W.” This is not the case with a monospaced font, where all the letters are the same width. The general consensus is that proportionally spaced fonts are easier to read; monospaced fonts are a relic from the days of manual typewriters that are just not necessary with computerized word processing.  

On the topic of typewriters, Rule 30 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure allows attorneys (who are filing a hard copy of their brief) to type their briefs on a manual typewriter as long as the font is “not smaller than standard elite type.” Attorneys who are using a computer to type their brief can use any font as long as it is not smaller than Times New Roman 12-point font. On the other hand, Tennessee appellate attorneys who plan on e-filing their brief are limited to using a 14-point font in the Century family. In Microsoft Word, this includes Century or Century Schoolbook. Century is also the mandatory font for all briefs submitted to the United States Supreme Court. 

Trial level briefs, at least at the federal level, are more open to font variations. The rules for the Eastern District and Middle District of Tennessee allow any font as long as it is larger than 12 point. The Western District of Tennessee only allows Times New Roman, Arial and Courier New fonts, and those fonts must be at least 12 point in size. 

The Arial font is a popular font in the Microsoft Word software, but it carries some controversy. Arial is a proportionally spaced font, but, unlike the Times New Roman or Century fonts, is a sans serif font. Sans serif means the letters do not have serifs, tiny curlicue markings at the edges of the letters. Arial, like the Helvetica font, is beloved for its minimal and elegant lines. However, sans serif fonts are generally thought to be more difficult to read than serif fonts. The serifs actually help the reader’s eye follow the text on the page. 

Fonts give appellate practitioners a lot to think about, perhaps too much. Personally, I have grown to love the Century font and, when I have a choice, I use that font over all others.

Lucy Jewel is professor of law and director of legal writing at the University of Tennessee College of Law. Jewel is the current vice-chair of the TBA Appellate Practice Section.