Italicize case names. Yes, italicize. Don’t underscore.

Posted: September 20th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Design, Grammar, Punctuation, and Usage, Talking About the Cases | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Old habits die hard. When I suggest that lawyers italicize case names, they often react in horror. But the modern preference is to italicize case names, rather than underscore, although either is correct. I know. You still don’t believe me. Since my word on this issue may not be enough to slant you (pun intended!) in the proper direction, here’s the reason why.

In the old days (before computers), lawyers underscored case names and introductory signals because typewriters and early word-processing programs could not italicize. So briefs that were professionally printed used italics, but briefs that were typed in-house had to make do with underscoring. Although most style manuals say that case names may be italicized or underscored, it makes sense to drop the obsolete convention of underscoring now that typewriters are being turned into jewelry.

All the authorities agree on this. The style guides still allow underscoring out of deference to anyone who may still be typing on an old typewriter. Contrary to popular perception, The Bluebook does not require underscoring. It gives the option of either underscoring or italicizing (see bluepages at front, B13 on typeface conventions), but it then confuses the issue by using underscoring throughout. (Did you expect anything but confusion from The Bluebook?)

The ultimate guru on all things related to the design of legal documents is Matthew Butterick. (His book, Typography for Lawyers, is groundbreaking. You should buy it.) He insists on italics for case names and also explains that the Bluebook does not require underscoring.  Bryan Garner also endorses italics. And Supreme Court briefs use italics. Here’s an example: Supreme Court Brief using italics.

Italics follow the design principle of keeping the fonts on a page as simple and consistent as possible. Italics are just easier on the eye.

So tilt away!


P.S. My book contains many other fascinating tips like this.

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The Foundations of Design

Posted: December 2nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Design | No Comments »

Written communication is largely about design. One of the best resources on modern design is The Non-Designer’s Design Book (3rd Ed., Peachpit Press, 2008), by Robin Williams. In this delightful and insightful book, Williams highlights the four foundations of design: contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity. Of these four principles, alignment and proximity are essential to the design of legal papers.


Indents are structural tools because the alignment or indentation of headings is a visual clue that suggests how important a heading is. Headings at the left margin, such as Roman-numeral headings, are the most important. The indent before a subheading signals that an issue is subsidiary to the main point. The deeper the indent, the more subsidiary the issue. Scroll through your document to review each layer of headings as a group and to check that you have formatted and indented each layer of headings consistently.


Keep related items close together. For example, if your paper surveys the types of relief available for a violation of the securities laws, paragraphs discussing each type of relief should be probably be grouped together. Similarly, keep citations  near the case discussion—meaning in text. Putting citations in footnotes violates the design principle of proximity. It also requires the reader to bounce around on the page to piece together the full citation. Remember that our job is to keep the readers’ eyes moving forward and anything that stops that forward momentum is a writing crime.

(As you know, I disagree with the trend to put citations in footnotes in briefs and opinions. Dropping citations to footnotes is a substantive error, as well as an affront to the principles of good design. Within a citation, the name of the court and the year of the decision both indicate the weight of a case as precedent, so the citation itself contains substantive information. Substantive information should not be dropped to footnotes.)

Less is More

But while you should consider principles of modern design in laying out your paper, remember that the legal profession is not the advertising profession. Don’t be too flashy or slick. Never let design overpower content.


Good design makes for easy reading. How pretty is your paper?


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White Space: Eye Candy for Readers!

Posted: November 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Design | No Comments »

Try to walk lightly on the page (or the screen). White space is polite because it gives your readers a rest. Honestly, white space will probably be your readers’ favorite part of any paper!

But white space does more than just allow your readers to rest. It is also a key design tool for making your papers more readable. Why? Because it makes structure visual. It shows where you are shifting thoughts and beginning new points.

Here are some ways to add white space:

  • Create wide margins.
  • Double space between paragraphs.
  • Double space before and after headings.
  • Leave an extra space before beginning a new Roman-numeral heading.
  • Increase the spacing between major sectional breaks, such as between the opening and the body of the paper.
  • Insert a centered, light line between major sections. This line works especially well in letters and looks like this:


Line spacing is also important. In a shorter paper, such as a letter to a client, single spacing may make the structure of a paper more apparent. In longer works, such as briefs or memoranda, double spacing (or 1.5-line spacing) is usually easier on the eye. Indeed, a 10-page, single-spaced paper is a paper that begs not to be read.

So step back and take a look: how big is your text footprint?

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