First-Line Indents and Font Mixing

Hi, my name is Justin.

Let me start by saying that I use Typography for Lawyers as a reference every time that I draft anything for work, and the book as helped my typography tremedously.

I did run into a typography issue when I was drafting my first Michigan COA brief. When drafting my introduction, I made a numbered list of reasons why a certain relationship existed in my case that was important for the appeal. I was also using first line indents instead of space between paragraphs. When doing the list, it did not look right without an indent or a space between paragraphs so I formatted it like a normal paragraph with the first line indented and no hanging indent. I was wondering if this was correct from a typography perspective or if I should have used a hanging indent with a space between each numbered paragraph, despite the rule to use either a first line indent or space between paragraphs, never both?

Second, I have been using the Avenir font for argument and fact headings in briefs and for headings in other documents and Palatino for body text. Do these mix well? I like the look of a san-serif font used for headings with a serif font for body text but I am new to mixing fonts in this way. Also, does MB have a san-serif font that would be good for this purpose?

Despite my reputation as a fearsome rulemongerer, I usually don’t like to think of things in terms of correct or not. You used your visual judgment to make a decision. That’s better than the alternative. If you like Avenir + Palatino, use them!

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Thank you. I am assuming the same goes for formatting a numbered list as shown in the screenshot?

Does your numbered list follow a numbered paragraph? I can’t tell based on the screenshot.

No. it follows a regular, non-numbered paragraph. Here is a screenshot that shows the preceding paragraph.

Ah, I see. I’d suggest a couple of revisions. First, I’d indent the entire numbered list (for organizational clarity). Second, I’d use 0.5" tab spacing instead of 0.25" (to avoid double-digit para numbers crashing into the first word; even if that’s not an issue in this particular list, it’s a good habit to get into).

In other words, I’d set Aligned at to 0.5"; Tab space after to 1"; and Indent at to 0.5". If you adopt this approach, then you’ll also need to make sure your indent first line carries over (not sure if you’re using styles). If it doesn’t carry over, then you can just manually set it.

BTW, at ¶ 2, your item (2) should be followed by a semicolon, not a comma. Just something that caught my eye.

Is this what you mean when you say to set Align at to 0.5"; Tab space after to 1"; and Indent at to 0.5"? I put screenshots what I thought it meant and of my paragraph settings. I may have set it wrong.

I also have not learned to use styles yet. I would like to learn anything that will make formatting easier lol.

You don’t think that 0.5 creates too much space between the single-digit para numbers v 0.35 or 0.4? Just a curiosity question as I am also trying to train my eye to see when I have too much space in such lists and when placing a first line indent as I am assuming font size will also dictate the size of the indent.

There should have been a semicolon v a comma in item (2). I missed that when formatting. I was probably delirious at that point in the process and was just ready to submit at that point lol.

Also thank you for taking the time on this. It is greatly appreciated.

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Sort of. You nailed the look/measurements I was recommending, but I was describing making these changes centrally under Numbering. But if it works, it works.

Styles are indeed a game changer. They’re a powerhouse that let you make changes at the global level, thereby helping to create unparalleled typographical control and consistency across your documents. It was actually reading @mbutterick that finally convinced me to start using them. They take some upfront work, but they pay dividends, especially if you set up a template (or more) with your custom styles. Once you start using styles, I think you’ll find them to be indispensable.

Couple things:

  1. You’re certainly correct that font size is a factor. For example, if your text were 9 or 10 points, then the 0.5" spacing might seem excessive. But at 12 points, I think it’s very nice indeed.

  2. If you’re going to adopt this 0.5" spacing in your numbered list, I think it only make sense that your first line indent of all your paragraphs also be 0.5" (instead of 0.25"). This discrepancy might be what you eye is picking up.

To me—and there are actually studies on this—the added white space enhances readability and understanding, which is always a plus for both the writer and reader, especially when your writing is of a persuasive nature.

You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure. Your questions are insightful.

I think I got it by doing it under the numbering settings, which to be honest did not know you could format all of that in those settings. I have attached a screenshot.

I will definitely adjust my settings which is perfect timing because I am finalizing an LLC operating agreement.

If the numbered paragraphs are formatted as shown, do you need space between paragraphs or no because of the space between the numbers and the meat?

Or does it make sense to break the rule of either First Line Indents or Space Between Paragraphs in this instance and format the numbered paragraphs as shown in this screen shot?

The added white space study makes sense. I wish that I didn’t have to use the advertisement in the margins so those were left blank. Ever since I read the book those seem distracting and unnecessary advertising.

I am also going to learn how to use styles. Any resource that you thought was particularly helpful to learn how to use those?

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Given that your line spacing is set to 18 points, I’d say forgo extra spacing between paras. But if your text were single spaced, then you might need the extra cushion (as I call it). Just let your eye be the judge—I think you have good instincts.

You know, even assuming there isn’t some obscure idiosyncratic court or local rule barring it, I don’t prefer this approach. For lack of a better word, it looks severe to me (like something Word would make). It loses some charm, if that makes sense. It also burns up some space unnecessarily, which might be a factor if you’re coming up against a page limit. It might work better in something like a contract, but I don’t think it works as well in court papers. Totally subjective though.

BTW, if it’s ever necessary in the future, you might consider using outline numbering:

The main numbered para uses 0.5" tab spacing but the subparas use 0.25". The point size of the numbering itself for the main para is at the same size as the text (14 pts.), but it’s 12 points for the subparas. Not only does this reinforce that those are subparas, but it also makes room for the decimals/fractions and accommodates for the additional indentation. This works, to my eye, but you’ll have to be the judge for yourself.

I also despise those. Besides being distracting and superfluous, as you said, they just end up looking like an affectation.

That’s great. I didn’t use any external resources. Self-taught. I have an IT background (mostly front-end stuff: support, training, design, consulting, etc.). But even with my background, I still resisted learning to use styles for about two decades. No doubt, there are mounds of instructional videos online though.

BTW, I noticed you didn’t set your regular (unnumbered) paragraph with a first-line indent of 0.5" (it still looks to be set to 0.25"). Was that an intentional choice?

You have a good eye for the spacing. My line spacing was set to 18 points. MI COA is pretty forgiving on formatting by only requiring min page margins and min font size and using a max word count rather than a page limit, but the Court Rules are strict on the 1.5 line spacing.

The outline numbering to me would work in a Complaint or Answer where your paragraphs are all numbered. I will be experimenting with this when I do my next Petition or Complaint. I love the process of experimenting as you can see from this screenshot of my TOC for an operating agreement.

I didn’t change the First Line Indent only because I was messing with the number paras to understand your feedback. I would otherwise make it match the numbered paragraph.

Do you use a prof font or system font and regardless which is your font of choice?

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How I wish this were the norm in every jurisdiction. It makes sooooo much more sense.

I suspect that in addition to being analytical, you’re creatively inclined as well. I’m wired the same way. Where others might see experimenting like this as a tedious chore and afterthought, I welcome it as indispensable and find it really enjoyable. Besides, it really does pay off—e.g., the judge on four of my current cases has on numerous occasions openly and explicitly stated his appreciation for my presentations, to which even opposing counsel has nodded his head up and down in agreement. I imagine it must be mind-numbing for a judge to read paper after paper that looks exactly the same (Times New Roman, 12 pts., 0.5" right margin, bad writing overall, crap headings, terrible/nonexistent bookmarks, etc.). But if you can’t even hold a judges attention, how can you hope to persuade him/her? It just makes sense to care about typography—it’s consequential.

BTW, I like your TOC. The headings are concise enough that it works well to set the text in two columns. The overall look is modern, but it’s warm and readable, not cold and uninviting.


I have a license to @mbutterick’s Equity, Concourse, and Century Supra (in my pic above). I’ve used Equity in the past in my court papers, including in federal court where the judges sometimes have rather strict standing orders to use either Times New Roman or a font that’s substantially similar. Otherwise, Equity is my font-of-choice for my correspondences, and Century Supra is my font-of-choice for my court papers (though I’ve actually set up two identical templates—one for each font with otherwise identical formatting). And I use Concourse throughout all my writing but reserve it for headings, long quotes, and some other accent elements:

It isn’t the norm in our lower court rules. Those still have page limits to motion briefs, but the nice thing is that the page limit is determine in 12 point, double spaced text, but most judges do not require or get upset at single-spaced pleadings, nor are they strict on the page limits at least the Judges that I regularly appear before.

Thank you. That TOC took sometime to adjust, but I am finally happy with it.

I agree. I love the creative aspect of trying to add good, creative typography to legal documents. Here, everything is in Arial or TNR; headings and titles are bold, all caps, and underlined; paragraphs are in bold or italics for emphasis; and paragraph indents are not consistent.

Your pleading looks awesome set in MB Fonts. I like that the block quote was set in a different typeface, which actually brings up a question, as I was experimenting with the same approach to answers to Interrogatories by setting the answers and objections in block quote format with a different typeface.

I am definitely going to buy MB fonts when and if I go on my own. Right now, jumping from my MacBook to my work PC, I am stuck using system fonts that I have on both operating systems. If I go on my own, my goal is to find a monospaced font that maybe a good old English style font for a Will to see how it looks to make it look like an old style will.

Thank you for the wonderful compliment.

Does your firm frown on using commercial fonts? I ask because @mbutterick’s license (which I’d link to, but the forum says I’m a new user and limits me to two links per post) would let you install and use his fonts on any device that’s dedicated exclusively to you. And his fonts are compatible with both Windows and Mac platforms.

A font that’s both monospaced and Old-English (a.k.a. blackletter)? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one that’s both those things. Usually blackletter fonts are proportionally spaced. Regardless, I think you’d have lots of fun just looking at all the options, given the vintage aesthetic you’d be aiming for. I don’t have any recommendations for blackletter fonts (not that you asked), but there are three monospaced fonts I do like, none of which I have a license to (yet): @mbutterick’s Triplicate, Manifold, and Operator.

My firm does not frown on commercial fonts. I honestly did not think about having them on my laptop and my work computer. So that is a fair point, and I will go and look at them to see which one I would prefer. I am liking Heliotrope.

I would use the Blackletter as the title or just to say Last Will and Testament and then use a monospaced like Pitch for the body text.

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Ditto on Hiliotrope. I’ve looked at the pdf specimens @mbutterick has on his site, and it’s remarkable how impressively well it works not just in headings but also in body text. But I do wish style 8 were actually a style 7, and that there were an even heavier style as 8. But I figure Matthew must’ve had good reason for not doing it that way.

Yes, that makes sense about the will fonts. I figured that’s what you must’ve meant, but I didn’t want to assume.

Dang. I just saw that Concourse Index that was free and I could have used that for my numbered lists in that brief lol

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:laughing: The same thing had happened to me. I just got there before you did, but yes, I missed it for a long time too. That’s okay though; you have it now. Besides, your list looks quite polished as it is. It’s very thoughtfully done.

Thank you. I will be finding a way to use them. Have you used them in Court pleadings yet?

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You know, that’s a good question. No, I haven’t. I’ve used them in correspondences, where I might have just a short list here and there. But in pleadings where all the paras are numbered, the double- and certainly triple-digit circled numbers get wide and unwieldy, knocking everything out of alignment. It’s not that it’s impossible to compensate for this, but it just becomes less practical to go that route. I could see the font being especially useful for technical writing, instructional manuals, standard operating procedures, that sort of thing.