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In font-astic decision, committee prefers Bookman Old Style over Times New Roman

Senior Editor Top Stories

And Arial tops Courier

Tom HallMaybe it’s a bold, ahem, new direction in appellate brief typography. Or maybe all those Latin legal phrases are just too hard in (Times New) Roman.

Whatever the font of inspiration (OK, we’re done), as part of its regular three-year cycle rule amendments, the Appellate Court Rules Committee is proposing that appellate briefs be submitted in either Arial or Bookman Old Style typefaces, instead of the currently approved Courier or Times New Roman styles.

The committee published the amendments in the June Bar News and the rules package will be filed with the Supreme Court in January, which will also seek comments. If approved by the justices, the font change would be effective January 1, 2021.

So, you have some time to get ready for this possible change.

Committee Chair Tom Hall explained there’s a solid reason for the amendment: appellate judges prefer the new fonts.

The committee was initially concerned about compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and whether the Courier and Times New Roman fonts might be more difficult to read on paper or on a screen for people with visual impairments and for programs that translate text into speech.

The committee eventually concluded there was not an ADA issue, but “as part of the investigation, we decided to ask the people who do the most reading on computers of these documents — which are the district court of appeal judges — on which fonts they prefer,” Hall said. “We polled all of the district courts of appeal, every district judge, and the fonts that were overwhelmingly approved were Arial and Bookman Old Style.”

As a corollary, the committee also recommended doing away with the page limit that applies to some appellate filings and replacing it with a word-count limit. That’s because, Hall said, Arial and Bookman Old Style are not as “compact” as Courier and Times New Roman; a 50-page brief in Times New Roman might run over 60 pages in Bookman Old Style even though they have the identical words.

“It’s the same amount of words, it’s deceptive to say it’s longer,” Hall said.

The rule had specified 50 pages for a respondent’s response and the amendment keeps that limit for typewriter or handwritten filings, but those that are computer generated have a 13,000-word limit. The petitioner’s reply would remain at 15 pages if hand or typewritten, but would be 4,000 words if computer generated. (Almost without exception, lawyers are required to file electronic documents, so the word limit would apply to them.)

The font amendment drew only one comment before the August 1 deadline (Bar members will have another chance to comment when the rule goes to the court). Orlando attorney Cassandra Snapp found the Arial font too blockish and suggested substituting a typestyle with serifs, which have strokes or other excrescences at the ends of some letters.

“A san-serif font looks clean as a design element, but it’s not very readable in big blocks of text,” wrote Snapp, a former journalist. “The function of a serif is to guide the eye to the next letter. Without a serif, the eye jumps. That’s not a problem for headlines, but it’s tiring to read it in blocks.”

Hall said the Appellate Rules Committee ran the amendment past the Rules of Judicial Administration Committee because of concerns that other procedural rules require different fonts, but the RJAC found no problem with the amendment. Trial courts, which routinely deal with shorter documents, already typically specify 12-point fonts while appellate courts prefer the larger 14-point type.

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