Five Secret Typography Tips for Lawyers

By Matthew Butterick

Writing a book about typography for lawyers is a little like running a karate dojo — as the master, I have to keep a few secrets for myself. But for Ross, I’ll bend the rules. Here are five of my favorite typography tips that I don’t usually share with people:

1) Extra characters on the iPhone & iPad

Press a key on the iPhone (or iPad) keyboard and hold it down. For many keys, a key palette will appear with alternate characters. Alphabetic characters reveal accented versions. Under punctuation, you’ll find the ellipsis, the em dash, the bullet, the section mark, curly quotes, and other little conveniences.

2) Footnote references in bold

By default, your word processor will set your footnote-reference marks in the same font as your text. But at their reduced point size, those marks can look a bit pale and fragile. Instead, set those marks using a bold font. That way, when the marks get shrunk, they’ll hold up better on the page.

3) ALL-CAPS on stationery and business cards

I advise lawyers not to use CAPS for more than one line at a time, to prevent anyone from setting whole paragraphs in caps. But multiple lines of caps on stationery or business cards can look quite sharp. In fact, at those small sizes, caps are often more legible than standard upper & lower case. My own stationery and business cards are entirely set in caps.

4) Basic Commercial — a great substitute for Arial or Helvetica

Basic Commercial is a sans serif font from the early 1900s that was a precursor to Helvetica (and later, Arial). It has a similar informational look but with more historical flavor. (It was also the original font used for New York City subway signage in the ’70s.) A terrific and underused font. (See

5) PDF exhibit letters

If you litigate in a district that requires electronic filing, you may have wondered how to put exhibit letters in your PDFs. I’ve gotten documents from lawyers that look like they jammed the plastic exhibit tab through a scanner — not such a great idea. In addition to endangering your scanner, the exhibit letter will be barely visible to someone flipping through the PDF. So I made a special set of extra-large exhibit letters that I can drag & drop into exhibit PDFs. You can download them at

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