Why you should heed the typography experts

Like most lawyers, I learned poor typography from an early age. Throughout college and my first year of law school, I typed two spaces after every sentence, double-spaced my papers, and wrote everything in Times New Roman. Then I read Typography for Lawyers, and my eyes were opened. Once an expert carefully explained how to make my documents look professional and why it mattered, I was quick to adopt all the typographical conventions.

Not everyone is so quick to adopt, though—and understandably so. Lawyers are an independent sort, relying on our own judgments. We get used to the way things are done and recognize the value of constancy. Many lawyers need a better reason than “the experts say so” to make a change.

I recently marshalled those reasons to try and persuade some colleagues. I rounded up much of what lawyers other than Matthew Butterick have argued on the subject of typography, and now I offer those links and nuggets below. I’ve quoted selectively to focus on a few particular issues, but the sources discuss more.

These sources generally agree on three points:

  1. Certain typographical conventions are almost universally upheld among typographers, designers, and publishers.
  2. Following those conventions improves legibility for the reader.
  3. Following those conventions improves the credibility of the author.

To give credit where it is due, I found much of what I quote below through Raymond Ward’s blog, the (new) legal writer. You can start with this post and follow the rabbit trail of links.

Everyone agrees on certain typographical conventions.

Pretty much everyone who is an authority or knows something about the design of documents agrees that only one space should be used after a paragraph, that justification with hyphenation or left-aligned text is acceptable (but justification without hyphenation is not), and that first-line indents need not be used along with spaces between paragraphs. These are near-universal conventions of professional typography. “Everyone” includes Bryan Garner, The Chicago Manual of Style, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Matthew Butterick (author of Typography for Lawyers), appellate lawyers, legal bloggers, criminal defense curmudgeons, Above the Law, legal writing professors, a contract drafting lawyer, and a New York City judge (and many of these people cite others, too many to gather).

These conventions are universally accepted because they are useful. They improve legibility for the reader and credibility for the author.

Following typographical conventions improves legibility.

If you read nothing else below, read this article. It cites to interdisciplinary studies and accepted graphic design principles to provide evidence that following typographic conventions improves both legibility and credibility.

There’s really too much to quote directly. Read it all—this is the only article I’ve found that pulls together real interdisciplinary studies on how typography affects legibility.

The Seventh Circuit:

A business consultant seeking to persuade a client prepares a detailed, full-color presentation using the best available tools. An architect presenting a design idea to a client comes with physical models, presentations in software, and other tools of persuasion. Law is no different. Choosing the best type won’t guarantee success, but it is worthwhile to invest some time in improving the quality of the brief’s appearance and legibility. …

When used with proportionally spaced type, extra spaces lead to what typographers call “rivers”—wide, meandering areas of white space up and down a page. Rivers interfere with the eyes’ movement from one word to the next. …

Do not justify your text unless you hyphenate it too. If you fully justify unhyphenated text, rivers result as the word processing or page layout program adds white space between words so that the margins line up.

The Redbook:

Readability. Except in the hands of a skillful typographer, fully justified text can be harder to read than unjustified (“flush-left”) text. This is always true for office documents, especially when they are un-hyphenated as well. … Rivers of white space may appear to flow down the type, requiring some editing of the copy to correct. … Setting the copy flush left has its own advantages, too: the uneven right margin gives visual clues that help the reader find the beginning of the next line. Readers don’t lose their place in the copy as often.

Mark Bennett at Defending People:

Typography is the art of making documents work well. Butterick makes the case for lawyers learning some typography: it is a necessary tool for holding readers’ attention. Filing an important document without considering how it looks is like (in Butterick’s words) showing up for an oral argument dressed in jeans and sneakers, then slouching at the lectern, eyes cast downward, while reading from a script in a monotone.

A New York City Judge:

Because typography affects legibility and readability, lawyers must, when in doubt, prefer legible to beautiful and, then, complying with rules to legibility. …

Legal writers, as opposed to publishers, should stick to left-aligned text; it’s easiest to read. The uneven margin on the right-hand side, also known as a right-ragged effect, helps readers find the beginning of the next line. It helps readers keep on reading.

Adams on Contract Drafting:

Does justified text have anything going for it for purposes of word-processed documents? Well, its defenders will tell you that it looks “professional.” But it’s a phony professionalism, in that it comes at the expense of readability, which should be the first priority of any kind of typesetting, including word processing. …

As the online Chicago Style Q&A states, there’s no evidence that using two spaces makes text easier to read. …

So if you’re still using two spaces, stop it—your credibility is at stake!

Following the typographical conventions improves credibility.

The Seventh Circuit:

A business consultant seeking to persuade a client prepares a detailed, full-color presentation using the best available tools. An architect presenting a design idea to a client comes with physical models, presentations in software, and other tools of persuasion. Law is no different. Choosing the best type won’t guarantee success, but it is worthwhile to invest some time in improving the quality of the brief’s appearance and legibility.

Above the Law:

It matters because as a lawyer, writing is your craft, so you should use your tools correctly and expertly. It matters because some of your readers might just realize that you made a mistake, and might just think a little less of your attention to detail, or about how much you really care about getting things right.

Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice:

That’s largely the point of [Typography for Lawyers], that by adopting the ways of typographers, without having to reinvent the typography wheel with every point made, we can make our work appear more professional, poised and persuasive. …

The book is filled with nuggets, rationales and mechanics to make our papers look better. No, they won’t make a loser appeal into a winner, but like wearing a decent suit to court, or polishing your shoes, it’s one less detriment and one more benefit. Butterick’s point, and mine, is that there’s no good reason not to do it as well as it can be done.

Mark Bennett at Defending People:

Typography is the art of making documents work well. Butterick makes the case for lawyers learning some typography: it is a necessary tool for holding readers’ attention. Filing an important document without considering how it looks is like (in Butterick’s words) showing up for an oral argument dressed in jeans and sneakers, then slouching at the lectern, eyes cast downward, while reading from a script in a monotone.

A New York City Judge:

Without effective, legible typography, the reader won’t appreciate a document’s content. When you have a choice, make the document accessible, comprehensible, persuasive, and professional.

Adams on Contract Drafting:

Does justified text have anything going for it for purposes of word-processed documents? Well, its defenders will tell you that it looks “professional.” But it’s a phony professionalism, in that it comes at the expense of readability, which should be the first priority of any kind of typesetting, including word processing. …

As the online Chicago Style Q&A states, there’s no evidence that using two spaces makes text easier to read. …

So if you’re still using two spaces, stop it—your credibility is at stake!

How to make your documents look professional

If you’re at all like me, you spent your entire college and law school career writing papers with required formatting: double-spaced, Times New Roman, and one-inch margins. You put two spaces after each sentence because that’s how you were taught to type. You hit the tab key at the start of each paragraph because how else do you get that nice big indent?

Many of us carried this formatting into the professional world. The problem is that it produces memos, emails, and reports that look like homework, not professional analysis.

The look of your documents matters for the same reason wearing a suit to court matters.

Wearing a suit to court is a matter of decorum, professionalism, reputation, and respect. It means you take the matter seriously. It won’t win you the case, but the judge isn’t going to berate you because you’re wearing sweatpants, either.

Legal documents need to appear in formal attire, too. With only a few changes, you can dress up your writing and make it that much easier for your reader to hear you.

Here’s how to start.

1. Use only one space after each sentence.

Like many, I was taught to hit the spacebar twice after each sentence in my middle school typing class. This is a holdover from the days of typewriters. In today’s world, it is objectively worse than using only one space.

Matthew Butterick—your friendly neighborhood typographer-lawyer—lays down the law:

Always put exactly one space between sen­tences.

Or more gen­er­ally: put exactly one space after any punc­tu­a­tion.

… [O]ne space is the well-set­tled cus­tom of pro­fes­sional typog­ra­phers. You don’t need to like it. You only need to accept it.

I have no idea why so many writ­ers resist the one-space rule. If you’re skep­ti­cal, pick up any book, news­pa­per, or mag­a­zine and tell me how many spaces there are between sen­tences.


That last bit is, humorously, exactly what converted Bryan Garner himself. He tells the story as a vignette for the ABA. His first secretary at LawProse told him that he had to stop putting two spaces after each sentence, or “[o]ur coursebooks are going to look amateurish.” As proof, she told him to look at his two books that Oxford University Press had published. Garner: “I went through an extensive reference library to prove Ruth and Oxford wrong. But every reputable source I could find, including The Chicago Manual of Style, supported them—not me.”

2. Start your paragraphs with either a first-line indent or a space after the previous paragraph.

From Butterick:

First-line indents and space between para­graphs have the same rela­tion­ship as belts and sus­penders. You only need one to get the job done. Using both is a mis­take. If you use a first-line indent on a para­graph, don’t use space between. And vice versa.

He also admonishes not to approximate a first-line indent with the tab key. In Word, set it as a paragraph property. Why? Because paragraphs with tabs are hard to keep consistent or reformat. In other words, it will allow you to use Word’s styles properly.

3. If you justify your text, turn on hyphenation. Otherwise, left-align.

Much of the legal and professional world seems to like justified text. It has that bookish, formal look—until gigantic spaces appear between words. That’s why hyphenation exists, and you should turn it on. It’s under the “Layout” tab in Word. For a nice side-by-side illustration of the effect, see Butterick.

If that’s too much of a bother, left-aligning the text is fine, too. Many people find it easier to read. It’s especially appropriate for webpages, where the width of the text will vary with the reader’s device.

4. Use appropriate line spacing.

Double-spacing is for drafts; it isn’t meant for reading. You’ll never see a book, newspaper, or magazine double-spaced. Single-spaced text is hard to read, too. It takes a bit of work, but setting the line spacing between 120% and 145% of the point size of the text is best.

5. Consider a different font, if you can.

Times New Roman is the king of default fonts. It’s okay (Butterick thinks it connotes apathy), though not ideal for readability. Using it won’t hurt your credibility or distract the reader (unless your reader is a font snob). So using a different font is something of a judgment call.

If you can make that call, though, you have the chance to present something fresh and interesting to the reader. Rather like choosing a tie, you can show something of your personality in your choice of font. Butterick’s list of acceptable system fonts is a good place to start. One of my favorites is Charter, which is even available for free (Medium notably chose it as their text font).

6. Increase your side margins to 1.5 inches—or 2 inches if you dare.

This produces one of the most immediate and dramatic improvements to the look of any Word document. It takes some courage, because people are so used to 1-inch margins that they’ll notice it immediately. But once they’re done noticing it, they’ll realize it’s better.

Increasing the margins increases whitespace, another characteristic of professional publishing. It’s all about line length. The longer a line of text is, the harder it is to follow and read from line to line.

How to search Wis. Stats. from your Chrome address bar

One of the things we can be proud of as Wisconsin attorneys is our legislature’s website. The statutes and administrative code are easy to access and free. People in other states aren’t always so lucky.

If you’re like me, you probably only go to the state legislature website to search for a statute or regulation. You probably have the site bookmarked, and every time you click that bookmark you immediately put a search in the box at the top of the site. Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead, you could put your search right in your browser’s address bar—without navigating to the legislature website first?

Of course, you can. Here’s how to do it in Chrome.

1. On your computer, open Chrome.

2. At the top right, click the three-dot menu button; select “Settings”.



3. In the “Search” section, click “Manage search engines”.



4. Under “Other search engines”:

Look at the bottom for an entry called “WisLeg.” This should appear if you’ve ever used the search on the legislature’s website while using Chrome. If it’s not there, try going to the legislature’s website and entering a search, then check again. You can also copy and paste this url into the third box on the “Add a new search engine” line: http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/search/results?q=%s&start={startIndex?}&rows={count?}


Click on the middle column for the “WisLeg” entry. This is the keyword you’ll use to perform a search from Chrome’s address bar. Right now it should be “legis.wisconsin.gov”; if you typed that into the address bar and then pressed tab, you would search the legislature’s website. But that’s a bit long, so rename it to something you’ll remember and can type quickly, like “legis” or “stats”.

If you want, you can also rename the search engine from “WisLeg” to something else—but this won’t affect the search.



5. That’s it!

Try opening a new tab and typing the keyword you chose into the address bar. You should see a message on the right end of the bar telling you that if you press tab, you’ll search the legislature’s website. Go ahead and press tab, then enter a search and press enter. You’ll be taken directly to the legislature website’s search results page.



Now that you’ve set up this nice shortcut for searching the legislature’s website, you can do the same thing for almost any website that has search.

The semicolon vs. the em-dash—an eternal quandary.

Few marks of punctuation are misunderstood and misused like these two. Infinitely useful—both connect ideas without the break of a new sentence—yet vaguely understood, both the semicolon and the em-dash tend to be either ignored or overused. When used well, however, they help the flow of ideas like nothing else.

As for me, I’ve used semicolons and em-dashes liberally in my writing since college. Yet, I’ve never paused to consider how they perform similar functions or figure out when to use one over the other—until now.

Similar functions

First, let’s define the correct way to use these marks. I’m only interested in using them to connect thoughts in a sentence, so I’ll omit other uses. I’ll take my direction (and examples) directly from Bryan Garner, in both Modern English Usage and The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation (yes, I own both).

The Semicolon. This is “a kind of supercomma.” It separates sentence parts that need a more distinct break than a comma can signal, but that are too closely connected to make into separate sentences. It is most commonly used to:

  • Unite closely connected sentences. Example: “But Shakespeare’s language appears entirely familiar to us, although it is almost 400 years old; the spelling, the vocabulary, the shapes of the words and phrases seem to have changed but little in that time.”
  • Give a weightier pause than a comma would. This use is discretionary. A comma (or perhaps a dash) would do, but you want a stronger stop. Example: “There is never anything sexy about Lautrec’s art; but there also is never anything deliberately, sarcastically anti-feminist in it.”

The Em-Dash. An em-dash is used to mark an interruption in the structure of a sentence. More specifically, it can be used to:

  • Set off an inserted phrase that, because of what it modifies, needs to go in the middle of a sentence. Example: “In America—as elsewhere—free speech is confined to the dead.”
  • Set off a parenthetical phrase that you want to highlight. Example: “They say—the astrologers, I mean—that it will get better and better for me as I go on.”
  • Tack on an important afterthought. Example: “It was June when we buried him—the summer solstice.”

Garner opines: “The em-dash is perhaps the most underused punctuation mark in American writing. Whatever the type of writing, dashes can often clarify a sentence that is clogged up with commas—or even one that’s otherwise lusterless.”

What’s the difference?

As you can see, both the semicolon and the em-dash introduce a weighty pause to a sentence. I think this is why I’m often unsure of which to use; I know that I want a pause (not a period), and that either a semicolon or an em-dash would produce the right rhythm.

Looking at the uses above, here’s what I observe: an em-dash sets off a thought, while a semicolon unites two closely connected thoughts. I perhaps get into the most trouble by confusing the em-dash’s ability to tack on a thought with the semicolon’s use as a weighty pause.

Even reading Garner has not made this entirely clear to me. Sometimes punctuation is simply an art.

What about you? Is this your quandary, also? Have I used my semicolons and em-dashes correctly in this post?

Overkill for lawyers

There’s a bit of a trope when it comes to lawyers and technology: whenever Apple or Microsoft or Google has a big event, a hundred posts appear explaining what it means “for lawyers.” How might lawyers use the Apple Watch? What about Google Glass in the courtroom? Most of these posts don’t say anything unique, because in reality lawyers are affected by gadgets exactly the same as everyone else. That is, lawyers get the same lust in their eyes for the shiny new tech and like to write about it.

I say unabashedly: This is one of those posts. It’s a not-so-serious look at Microsoft’s recent event. I write it not because I think the event had anything special for lawyers (quite the contrary), but because it’s fun. If you want the best “for lawyers” advice, go read Sam Glover’s advice to just buy anything that’s new and not cheap. Lawyers aren’t engineers, architects, or digital artists—the professional creatives targeted by the event—so the stuff announced is extreme overkill for a law practice.

Still, you might like nice things, and you might be curious about where Microsoft and Windows 10 are heading. In that case, read on!

Windows 10

Microsoft has dubbed the next major update to Windows 10 “The Creators Update.” The October 26 event accordingly focused on creative types.

Non-creative people have only a couple quality-of-life improvements to look forward to. I like the idea of having contacts on the taskbar, making it easier to communicate and share. OneDrive file placeholders are coming back, and the action center may get mildly more useful. That’s about it.

New surface computers

The very shiniest gadget is the new Surface Studio. It’s a desktop all-in-one PC with a 28″ 5k screen, fast internals, a pen, a new Surface Dial accessory, and a $3000-4000 price tag. No, your law office doesn’t need one—but you wouldn’t complain. Microsoft also announced a higher-end Surface Book laptop, with a little more oomph and a lot more battery.

One thing I do like, as someone who edits a lot of legal writing, is the pen combined with real-life scale on the Surface Studio. Microsoft designed the computer to display documents at true scale—so, for example, if you open an 8.5″ x 11″ memo in Word, it will take up 8.5″ x 11″ of your screen. That should obliterate any desire to print a document, which is still sometimes necessary when you need a broader view.

Working with words

I’m also somewhat excited that pen editing gestures are coming to Microsoft Office. There’s something about editing with a pen—it’s more active, engaged, brings out more of the art with words. Using a mouse, keyboard, and Track Changes feels cold and distanced by comparison, and sometimes I can tell it hampers creativity.

I’m also curious about the new Surface Dial accessory. It looks more useful for drawing than word processing, but I could see it being used in a number of ways. It seems to serve the function of a mouse wheel, just better and with more flexibility. Using it to flip pages in a Word document or finely control the zoom could make a generally laborious computer task—browsing through multiple screens of information—more intuitive, nimble, and ergonomic. The Dial will work with other Surface computers, too, so I might get a chance to see for myself (I own a Surface Pro 4).

Twitter 101 for bar association people

Continuing with the spark I got from Kevin O’Keefe last week, I’ve been trying to up my Twitter game. I got some great practice during the Wisconsin Solo and Small Firm Conference (you can see my noobish tweets under #WSSFC). I admit that I don’t have the hang of it yet. The most difficult thing, for me, is engaging others without sounding annoying or obsequious.

It’s a good thing, then, that the social media advice from Kevin O’Keefe just keeps coming. While I was at WSSFC he was attending the National Association of Bar Executives Communication Workshop (#NABECOMM16), sharing some great nuggets of social media wisdom:

More recently Kevin tweeted a link to a new Twitter 101 post by Niki Black over at MyCase. It’s a great introduction for lawyers. What follows is my distillation of her main points and my thoughts applying the article to bar association leaders/employees.

Twitter is good for attorneys who:

  1. Have potential clients who use Twitter;
  2. Would like to network with other attorneys across the country with similar practice areas;
  3. Want to connect with local/national media; or
  4. Want to keep up with new & info useful to their practice.

For bar association leaders, Twitter is even more of a no-brainer. Attorneys use Twitter. Other bar associations really use Twitter—and there’s a valuable network to have. Connecting with the media is an obvious good. And keeping up with news and trends is an essential part of the job.

To get started:

  • Choose a username based on your name, not your law firm’s. People prefer to interact with other people, not entities.
  • Write a bio that mentions your firm and 1-2 personal interests. Show that you’re a unique person with interests.
  • Include your law firm’s website link.
  • Find people to follow.
  • Set up Tweetdeck or Hootsuite.

Heed that first suggestion! Bar association leaders: you need to be on Twitter, as real people with real personalities. A “State Bar of X” account is fine and useful, but it’s not really going to be social. Here’s a golden opportunity to show your members that their bar association is made up of real people with real personalities who work hard to serve lawyers.

I would also add, on a practical note, that you should check out Buffer for scheduling posts and creating visuals, and goo.gl for shortening links you want to share.

Start tweeting.

  • Link to your firm’s latest blog post.
  • Link to news of interest.
  • Tweet about any topic that interests you.
  • Engage in conversations by replying and retweeting.

Your tweets should be:

  • 50% links to other people’s content
  • 30% interactions with others
  • 20% promoting your own content

These are the basics, and there’s not much to add. As I mentioned above, engaging in conversations seems the most difficult part—though maybe not if you’re more opinionated than I am. Retweeting things with a comment is one of the easier ways to participate. Try not to take the conversations too seriously; the medium is informal and not suited to nuance. It will certainly give you practice in getting quickly to the bottom line! The most important thing, I think, is to not be too hesitant or fearful—don’t worry, nobody’s following you at first, and your tweet will be quickly buried by the avalanche that is everyone’s feed.

Always think before you tweet!

This is the one caveat to what I just said about being hesitant and fearful. Tweets are entirely public, so they do require a modicum of judgment. If you wouldn’t say it at a crowded bar association event, don’t put it online. But don’t be afraid, either, to say something controversial or provocative! Those are the things that need to be said, and they can be said as one person’s opinion even when they cannot be said as the official statement of a bar association. In fact, that’s how you start a conversation, and isn’t that why we’re on Twitter in the first place?

For further reading/viewing, Niki’s post links to two MyCase webinars by Gyi Tsakalakis and Kevin O’Keefe, both worth checking out.

Missing: Bar association leaders online

Kevin O’Keefe asked an important question this week: Why are bar association leaders missing from the internet? Why aren’t they evangelizing for their causes by blogging? Why are they suspiciously absent from discussions on Twitter and LinkedIn? The online legal community is abuzz with talk of innovation, technology, and the future of our profession—and the people who lead our profession remain silent.

It’s not as if bar associations aren’t having these conversations. As Kevin knows, the ominous “future” is often raised in committee and a frequent bugaboo of reports. The problem is that these conversations never appear online; the buzz of the committee meeting stays in the ears of its members.

Briefly, Kevin highlights how this hurts bar associations:

  • They miss the chance to evangelize for their cause.
  • They can’t defend themselves from frequent online criticism.
  • They ignore an effective way to promote their members and those who are doing good work.
  • They fail to build trust or gain access to influencers.

In the end, Kevin can do little more than call these leaders to action. I’d like to add my perspective on the problem, as a lowly bar association employee.

I think bar associations and their leaders do not understand online engagement. It’s not in the job description (though perhaps it should be). Social media is left to communications and marketing professionals employed by the bar, and this seems sensible to people who understand the value of specialization.

The core problem is that bar associations and their leaders do not know how to be authentic online, or the importance of it. They do not know that vulnerability is more important than polish, that truth-telling is better than appeasement. They do know—from experience—that bold innovation is a risky business; in a bar association, anything but the status quo is going to upset somebody. We shouldn’t fear that, but, then again, lawyers are scary. Especially upset lawyers. This makes frank discussion risky, and the internet only makes it riskier. The larger the audience, the louder the boos.

I’m just an entry-level bar association employee (with a J.D., at least), so forgive me if I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I have a hunch that the biggest problem with bar associations in general is that they are afraid of their own members. This fear gets in the way of online engagement and authenticity. It gets in the way of innovation. It stifles.

I’m not sure that fear is justified. I should say it’s a fear of a small but vocal minority of members who might raise a ruckus. Because, really, most attorneys are good people and most bar members are good attorneys (at least in my state). Bar associations know and are proud of this. And yet, still, behind every decision there lurks a fear: How will they react?

Ironically, that question and that fear are exactly why bar association leaders need to be online. There’s no better way to influence people, to make your case, to generate support, and to put a positive spin on your actions. I think bar associations have been habitually uncommunicative, and that needs to change. The cure for members’ skepticism is more communication, not less. Especially because, in the end, our causes are objectively good and our innovations plainly needed.

I’d like to end by emphasizing what Kevin overlooked. It’s not just bar association leaders—lawyers who serve as presidents and committee members and such—who need to be online. Even more so, bar association employees must be present on blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. The truth is that association presidents and committee chairs come and go quite regularly, while employees stick around for 10, 20, or 30 years. These people are the lifeblood of the association—they are the ones who take what members want to do and actually make it happen. They are the ones who have staked their living on the association’s future, and they want to see it succeed as much as anyone in innovating and helping its members. I’m not sure this is well understood.

That’s why bar association employees should be empowered and encouraged to speak online with their own voices. These people are a huge force for change in our profession, and yet they are often silent. This will require a change of culture in bar associations (who tend to be afraid of communicating too much of their internal affairs) and probably a change of mindset for many employees. But if bar associations are going to be authentic, it is absolutely necessary.

I’d like to start with myself. I’d like to start taking this blog seriously, as a part of my job. It’s a way to network. It’s a way to think and develop ideas. It’s a way to stay connected with the people I serve, and show them the value of what I do. Perhaps, someday, it will help me push our profession forward and make it better for everyone. In the meantime, I’m just happy to add my voice to the conversation.

Thanks for the push, Kevin.

A tablet with handwriting you might actually use

I like technology and gadgets. I particularly enjoy devices that try to bring productivity and creativity together. I own a Surface Pro 4, which is a good example of that; it’s all about getting work done and freeing you to do the work your way.

At least, that’s the idea. The Surface Pen is a big part of that freedom, but devices like the Surface have never quite solved a problem with their stylus input: writing on a touchscreen is still a far cry from putting pen to actual paper. It’s just not as accurate, quick, natural, or pleasant. Even though it comes close in some cases, most people (myself included) don’t end up using the stylus as much as they thought they would.

The latest addition to this device genre, the intriguing Lenovo Yoga Book, tries to solve that problem. It lets you write with real ink on real paper while it captures your writing digitally.

It does this by replacing the usual keyboard with a flat touch surface. This surface lights up with keys for touch typing, but it also takes input from a combination stylus/pen. You can even put real paper on top of the surface and write on it—the Yoga Book will detect the strokes and record them in an app.

We’ll have to wait to see if this tactic proves successful. The Yoga Book was only just announced; reviewers will get their mitts on it in a few weeks. Until then, a few thoughts:

  • I wonder if the physical size and aspect ratio will hinder the writing experience. It’s definitely on the small side, designed more like a tablet than a laptop.
  • I wonder if you’ll need special paper, or if you’ll have to use the included stylus/pen. These types of limitations can turn a great feature into something few people will actually use. How many people would give up their favorite pen?
  • I think the accuracy of the digital transcription needs to be spot-on. Small glitches could cause the whole project to go awry.
  • Reservations aside, I’m glad to see a new approach to tablets with handwriting. This could be useful thing to many people.

Models of great legal writing

I recently reread Brian Garner’s oft-repeated advice on improving legal writing in an ABA article. The point: to be a good legal writer, you need to read good legal writing. Thankfully, Garner points to a few sources of such writing.

New to me was The Green Bag. Garner:

Here you’ll find some of the best, most interesting legal scholarship to be found anywhere. It’s a law review that defies most law-review conventions. Your subscription will get you not just a quarterly journal at a reasonable cost, but also a yearly almanac of good writing.

You can even access most of the journal’s articles from past issues online.

For “astoundingly good” briefs, Garner recommends anything from the Office of the Solicitor General. Also, anything you can find by Walter Dellinger, Clifton Elgarten, Miguel Estrada, Theodore B. Olson, Evan M. Tager, or Charles Alan Wright.

Sadly, Garner has fewer sources for good legal memos, motions, and contracts. I’ll recommend a couple places to start.

First, the Curmudgeon’s advice on writing a memo (pdf):

When you are writing a legal memorandum for internal use, there is only one proper way to discuss a case. This is the way:

In Smith v. Jones,

1. Somebody sued somebody for something.

2. The trial court held something. (The trial court did not “discuss” something or “analyze” something or “believe” something; it held something. Ordinarily, a trial court grants or denies a motion, or enters a judgment. Use the proper verb to describe the holding.)

3. The appellate court held something. (Ordinarily, an appellate court will affirm, reverse, vacate, or remand. Use the proper verb to describe the holding.)

4. Now, you can say anything else about the case that you care to.

Second, Matthew Butterick’s Typography for Lawyers. Check out his sample documents for tips on formatting captions, motions, research memos, and contracts. For a great example of a concise contract, look at his font license (pdf).


I wrote an article on perfectionism for the Young Lawyers Division newsletter earlier this year. After starting my new job at the State Bar as an editor, a colleague asked me to update it for the bar-wide newsletter, Inside Track. It’s published now, and you can read it here.

What I wrote was mostly self-reflection. I’ve had good feedback on it so far—perhaps because lawyers, as a whole, aren’t very open about their own struggles or emotions. In fact, my colleague took care to confirm that I felt comfortable exposing my piece to a broader audience. (I appreciated the thought, though I wouldn’t have submitted the article in the first place if I were worried about that sort of thing.)

As an editor at a state bar, my work focuses on communicating useful technical knowledge to lawyers. Our primary business is publishing books about the law and law practice. Sometimes, though, we all need a different kind of knowledge—the knowledge that others deal with the same fears and foibles as us. I’m thankful for that reminder.