May 12, 2010

Marketing Your Practice By Being a Type-A Lawyer

Many lawyers exhibit Type A personalities in the court-room or board-room:  highly competitive, ambitious, business-like and aggressive.  Yet when it comes to choosing the appropriate typography for the documents used in court or exchanged during transactions, these same lawyers are far more laid back, rarely searching for choices beyond the default Times-New Roman.

So how does lawyer typography relate to legal marketing, which after all, is the focus of this blog?   As I'll spell out below, one Helvetica character as a time, in the Internet Age, typography matters to lawyer marketing more than ever, largely because the web makes lawyers' writing so widely accessible.

I.  The Letter of The Law Is Everywhere 

In an Internet Age, lawyers' writings are available to all. These days, virtually every law firm has a website, and many have blogs which together comprise a large portion of lawyers' writing on the Internet.  These sites require careful typography choices to ensure that the site caters to its audience.  Thus, a site aimed at the elderly should employ large font on light backgrounds, while a site for younger folks might use an edgier look. 

But, bear in mind, typography issues aren't limited to on-line postings (and indeed, for websites and blogs, is not as critical because readers can, as a last resort, bypass the site through use of RSS feeds or email).   The more significant typography problems, in my mind, are those related to previously paper-based documents that are now rapidly making their way online.  For example, some law firms publish e-books to show their expertise in a particular subject matter and educate prospective clients.  Lawyers routinely make e-books available for download at their websites or post them at article archiving sites which means that the e-books are viewable by a far broader circle than their predecessors, the pamphlet, the law review article or the treatise.       

Likewise, a decade ago B.E.F. (before e-filing), lawyers submitted hard-copies of pleadings or briefs to the court.  Most of those hard copied documents lived out their existence in practical obscurity in courthouse file cabinets, unviewed by anyone besides the judge and the parties involved in the case.  Fast forward to today when anyone can search PACER or a state electronic filing system and find and download briefs and pleadings.  As with e-books, sites like JD Supra offer lawyers an SEO-charged location to upload work product for colleagues and potential clients to review.

The upshot of all this is that both the substance and style of lawyers' writing, is on display.  More importantly, readers' impression of the the latter can influence their opinion of the former.  For example, a reader who downloads a law firm e-book on Fighting Foreclosure that resembles a legal memo - single spaced, Times New Roman font on white paper - may assume that the e-book is written in complex legal-ese without bothering to take a closer look.  Alternatively, the reader might view the e-book as cheap-looking or homemade and wonder about the firm's financial stability, its availability of support staff or potentially, even its competence.   

Likewise, even the typography in briefs and memos tells a story to those who care to "read between the lines."  For starters, a lawyer's choice of typography for a brief can signal to others whether that lawyer is familiar with the rules of the jurisdiction, which often dictate font selection.  Others may wonder whether the lawyer still using a dated font like courier has actually practiced much in recent years.  Finally, some readers will simply feel annoyed or frustrated as they try to work their way through a fifty page memo on the complexities of securities law in font comfortably visible only under a magnifying glass.  

Granted, most of the concerns just described (with the exception of the one related to ability to follow rules) are based on leaping and most likely, inaccurate assumptions. Nevertheless, whether fair or not, the kinds of negative impressions that clients may glean from a lawyer's chosen typography can result in lost business.

On the flip side, however, smart typography choices can help lawyers market their practice.  Bold fonts and interesting layout make an e-book look so crisp and attractive that clients can't resist reading it.  A font that's compatible with other lawyers with whom you work shows that you know what you're doing.  And a unique typography style -- perhaps an unusual combination of readable and stylish fonts --  can serve as your brand, so that all who see the document  know that it's from your firm even before they flip to the signature page.

II.  A Font of Font Solutions

So how can lawyers pick the type of typography that's right for them?  For major products like e-books, engaging a professional to assist with design and typography choice is probably the best solution.  But hiring professional help may not be within your budget, nor is a designer a cost-effective approach for traditional documents like briefs or memos.

Fortunately, the web is a font of information on font selection.  Below are some resources to get you started:

1.  The beautifully designed Typography for Lawyers site offers the most detailed and comprehensive information on font choices for lawyers.  Plus, it includes examples of each font discussed, so you can see how they look in action.

2.  For transactional lawyers, Adams Drafting principal Ken Adams, describes his preferred choice of Calibri as a font for contract drafts here.

3.  The Seventh Circuit discusses federal court typography requirements and offers advice to lawyers on how to choose, as does this journal article, Painting With Print by Ruth Ann Robbins.

4.  Big Brand System explains different types of font and suggests ways to combine them.

5.  Here's a great infographic (kind of like a flowchart) from Julian Hansen that you can use to select the right font for your project.  (In fact, it's that chart that inspired this post).

Finally, if you're interested in a new font to spiff up a blog or website, Google just introduced a bunch of web fonts, free for download. 

III.  Conclusion

As I stated at the outset, many lawyers are already Type A personalities.  For that reason, it shouldn't be too difficult to convert them into Typography-A students as well, once lawyers wake up and realize how much the "letters of the law" matter to potential clients.