Designing Legal Motions

One of the services I offer is the creation of custom templates for motions and other court filings. By having a well-designed template on hand when you start drafting, you will avoid the last-minute scramble to reformat your brief mere hours (if that) before it is due. Additionally, by following the rules of typography and page layout, I can create a template that is much more effective than what most attorneys could produce on their own. 

A custom template allows your documents to stand out from the crowd, while still adhering to applicable court rules. Most jurisdictions’ rules allow for much more flexibility than you might expect given that almost all filings look uniformly terrible. For example, did you know that vertical margin lines are optional in California? (See California Rule of Court 2.108.)

Good design is crucial to legal writing because it reinforces the goals of the text and helps conserve the reader’s attention. It also has a scientifically proven effect on the persuasiveness of the document, which makes it even more relevant to attorneys: “Attorneys who are able to appeal to their audience will establish a measure of credibility, ethos, that will enhance the overall effectiveness of the argument.... Visual persuasion works because we remember best when we are presented information in images. Because the words on a page present a typographical image by themselves, attorneys must understand the concepts of artful and logical document design.” Ruth Anne Robbins, Painting with Print: Incorporating Concepts of Typographic and Layout Design into the Text of Legal Writing Documents, 2 J. ASSOC. LEGAL WRITING DIRECTORS 108, 111–12 (2004).

For a more in-depth explanation of the importance of typography for attorneys, check out Matthew Butterick’s website Typography for Lawyers.

Below is an example of a motion that I selected to reformat using typographic principles, while still adhering to the California Rules of Court. While not an egregious example, there are still several problems with this document, including:

  1. Font. The motion below is set in Times New Roman. “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 .... If you have a choice about using Times New Roman, please stop. Use something else.” Matthew Butterick, TYPOGRAPHY FOR LAWYERS 110–11 (2010). CRC 2.105 does not require Times New Roman—you have a choice!
  2. Margins. Although the margins of this document comply with CRC 2.107, they are too narrow given the point size of the font. When using a 12-point, proportional font you generally need page margins of 1.5 to 2 inches in order to achieve a comfortable line length.
  3. Vertical margin lines. These heavy lines distract from the body text, which should be the reader’s focus, and make the page feel cramped. They are not required by CRC 2.108 and should be avoided.
Original Motion

Original Motion

Below is a revised version of the above motion. In addition to addressing the concerns noted above (font, margins, and vertical margin lines), I made several additional improvements, including:

  1. Line spacing. For most text, the optimal line spacing is between 120% and 145% of the point size. The habit of double spacing (200%) is a holdover from the typewriter era; the carriage could move only in units of a single line, and single spacing was too dense. CRC 2.108 allows for 1.5 or 2.0 line spacing; I opted for 1.5, which is just slightly looser than the optimal range. 
  2. Headings. I didn’t waste my first-level hierarchical heading on the section label. I also switched from using roman numerals and letters to arabic numerals, which are easier to read (especially once you get past three or four sections).
  3. Footer. I reduced the point size to the minimum allowed under CRC 2.110 and eliminated the all caps, which are difficult to read and unnecessary.
Revised Motion

Revised Motion

If you are interested in developing a set of custom templates for your firm, please feel free to contact me through the contact page