ABA Journal

4 vignettes lead to a single moral about writing better briefs


Photo of Bryan Garner by Terri Glanger.

No. 1: In the mid-1980s, I was working on a brief with the legendary Dallas appellate lawyer Marvin S. Sloman. We had just acquired new “laserjet” printers that gave us the ability to use several fonts other than Courier, a font that mimicked the look of Royal and Underwood type-writers of a bygone era—a cruder look, even, than the IBM Selectric typewriter of the 1960s.

Marvin was a man of exquisite taste and discernment —alternately charming and gruff, and often pretty intimidating. (His standard answers to queries of any kind were barks of either “Of course!” or “Of course not!” No one could accurately predict which it would be.)

In preparing for one oral argument, Marvin used the word flaccid, which he pronounced /flas-id/. I suggested it should be /flak-sid/—that all the usage authorities and pronunciation experts recommended a hard “c.” He asked me to produce evidence. When I did so, he dismissed the experts I cited and called me an “old fogey” (I was 27).

So back to the brief. “Why don’t we use a better typeface—something more readable than Courier?”

“Of course not! We wouldn’t want the court to think we took any pains in making the brief look attractive. Make it look like it was produced on a typewriter. We should win with our arguments, not pretty pages.”

We filed it that way.

Click here to read the the other three passages in “The Tyranny of Typewriters” from the January issue of the ABA Journal.

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