Explaining fonts in California courts: eFiling and beyond

The font style must be essentially equivalent to Courier, Times New Roman, or Arial.

– 2017 California Rules of Court, Rule 2.105

When the focus of your briefs must be the content and conveying vital information to support your case, it can be easy to keep the visual details of the actual page set at the minimum standards of the law.

But with typography, the visual component of the written word, you have the opportunity to make your documents stand out, to create a positive reading experience for the judges and clerks who will be looking at them.

The font is only one of many aspects of typography, and something we’ve been getting a lot of questions about lately. So here is a summary of our philosophy when it comes to the ideal fonts in California courts for legal documents.

“Essentially equivalent”

When making recommendations for fonts used in documents that will be eFiled in the California court, we consider both the court rules and overall readability.

Court rules

As shown above, California Title Two rules state that the fonts used in submitted documents must be “essentially equivalent” to Courier, Times New Roman, or Arial. The law does not require your document to be in one of these fonts, just that the font you use be similar to these standard system fonts.

Matthew Butterick, in his book Typography for Lawyers (which we have discussed before and highly recommend), has a straightforward explanation of his interpretation:

“If the rules call for a specific font or point size, use it. For instance, Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.210(a)(2) requires either 14-point Times New Roman or 12-point Courier New. In that case, you have no discretion. Follow the rule.”

He continues,

“If the rules call for a font that’s similar to a particular font, use your discretion carefully. For instance, Calif. Rule of Court 2.105 requires a font that is “essentially equivalent to Courier, Times New Roman, or Arial.” I take this to mean you should use a font that has the general legibility and length characteristics of Courier, Times New Roman, or Arial…I don’t take the rule to mean you can only use those three fonts. If the rule meant that, it would have said so.”

We know, in fact, that other states, like Florida, do require lawyers to use very specific fonts to file documents in. Massachusetts, Alabama, and New Jersey “essentially force” appeals court attorneys to use Courier, an old-fashioned typeface that was designed in the lettering of electronic typewriters. There is no room for interpretation, that is the requirement.

So when California gives three different traditional fonts as guidelines, we take that to mean that they are looking for professional fonts in the style of those three traditional choices, rather than a single static option.

Readability

Many of these documents will be viewed by judges and clerks on a computer or tablet rather than on paper. So we approach readability from that point of view: what will make documents look the best and be easiest to read and understand when seen on a screen?

Here are two examples of block text, similar to what might appear on a document of your own in length if not in content. Both examples technically meet the standards of the court rules, but one offers a better reading experience.

Times New Roman font

Georgia font

Based on our experience, we recommend Cambria, Georgia, or Helvetica fonts, 13 pt. font type, and 1.5 line spacing. Again, either of the above options will be accepted by the court, but when you’re looking for your documents to not just be accepted, but also to convince and support your overall case, the font can go far to help.

Conclusion

When laying out its requirements, the court is establishing minimums and maximums and expectations for your documents. Unless it specifically states that a font size be X, or that a brief be written only in Y, you do have some latitude over how your documents appear.

Courts did not want to have to wade through documents written in:

Comic sans, Papyrus, Calligraphy

But if you are using a professional, legible font that is “essentially equivalent” to the traditional fonts that we have long known, and “If your typography conforms to the court rules in good faith, you should be on solid ground.” (Butterick)

In fact, in our 25 years of experience, we have seen documents get rejected for a variety of reasons, but almost never related to font type, and that never on documents that were written in one of the three fonts we suggest. In recent months, the only times documents have been rejected for font-related reasons were when the font size was too small.

The takeaway for best practices formatting your document?

Bigger is better. Choose the improved font. Left justify. Embrace white space. Aim for readability.

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What style and font have you found to work best for you? Tell us about it, or ask us questions in the comments.

 

“When Times New Roman appears in a book, document, or advertisement, it connotes apathy. It says, “I submitted to the font of least resistance.” Times New Roman is not a font choice so much as the absence of a font choice, like the blackness of deep space is not a color. To look at Times New Roman is to gaze into the void.”

– Matthew Butterick, “Typography for Lawyers”

Guide to better legal writing

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About the Author

Lindsey Dean is the Content Marketing Manager for One Legal where she is fueled by coffee, tea, and food for the imagination.

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