Painting with Print: Incorporating Concepts of Typographic and Layout Design into the Text of Legal Writing Documents

Ruth Anne Robbins

This article seeks to help attorneys do good deeds for their readers by using the look of the words themselves to create a visually effective textual “picture” in lawyering documents. Because I intend to prove that the arguments and suggestions for better textual visuals are not opinion but are grounded in science, the article examines interdisciplinary research. The article also looks at accepted practices in graphic design. The research helps explain that principles of document design should not be considered “optional” or rejected as merely subjective speculation. In fact, most of the accepted principles of document design are grounded in scientific study. The article begins with some explanation of learning theory and the principles of document design. This part of the paper will discuss some of the “whys” behind font and layout principles. Applied psychology studies have conclusively explained some concepts; others are maxims that graphic artists have agreed upon, even without hard science supporting the conclusions. Like lawyers, these visual design experts use their craft to persuade an audience about something. The article then analyzes some common myths about the visual design of legal briefs and concludes with a synthesized list of suggestions for lawyers to use in their documents. The article also includes an appendix charting the format rules of the state and federal appellate courts, along with the answer to whether an attorney can employ the synthesized design techniques in a particular jurisdiction.