The Font at the End of the Universe

A Freudian analysis of fonts


NOTE: the print version of this article makes judicious use of typefaces that cannot be reproduced online. Please follow the links within the article for information on the typefaces, or download a PDF version for the full experience.

A Freudian analysis of fonts 

Face it: many lawyers don’t give a dingo’s kidney about the typeface of their letters and documents, or the subliminal messaging conveyed by the fonts they use. The font all their documents are in is Times New Roman simply because it’s the default font for Microsoft Word. Your law firm’s fonts are important, and can say as much about you or your firm as the words themselves. So let’s have some fun with a few fonts and play Freud for a minute.

Times New Roman. This font needs a break; say, for a century. If you’re still doing your documents in Times New Roman, I’d say you’re deathly dull, unimaginative, resistant to change, can’t find the button on the toolbar to change the font to something more interesting, still listen to Duran Duran and have serious issues with your mother.

Courier, being the font used on typewriters and early word processors, isn’t used much these days, except by Hollywood scriptwriters. If you’re still using Courier and you’re not writing screenplays, you’re telling the world you’re a very boring law firm, and your lawyers still use IBM Selectric Typewriters or Mag cards on a System 6 instead of real computers. But it also means you had a traumatic childhood and fear heights, spiders and the future.

I once drafted a Franchise Agreement for a restaurant chain in Curlz because the client wanted to subliminally convince prospective franchisees that buying his franchise would be more fun than a barrel of monkeys (the use of the words “fun” and “franchise” in the same sentence was something I had never heard before. Or since.). But when he saw it, he thought a court would start to laugh if we ever had to enforce it, so I switched the font to Comic Sans.

Drafting an agreement in Comic Sans, Mistral or other exotic font says you’re a leading lawyer in your field and aren’t afraid to take risks, have a wacky sense of misadventure, have sailed a Beneteau from Maui to Victoria without seeing land for two weeks, write two humour columns on the side, cage dive with Great White Sharks in Guadalupe and jump off buildings to raise money for charity. Or is that saying too much about me? Damn Sigmund Freud anyway. (Or is that Jung?)

Johnston Underground, or its cousin, Gill Sans, is a font you don’t see much in North America, but you see it all over the UK because it’s the font used for London’s Tube. I use it from time to time after a Pimm’s just to make a document look more British. It probably says to readers “I’m English,” “I wish I were English” or “Is this stop Charring Cross?” If it were a car, this font would be a right-hand Triumph Stag. Or a Jaguar E Type (without the parts car).

Don’t panic. Although I never draft letters or agreements in Douglas Adams Handwriting, I can think of at least forty-two reasons why it’s a good font for digital signatures on pdf’s and for other occasions where you want someone to think you’re off your rocker or stark raving mad. Perhaps litigators should start to use this font in lists of documents just to have fun with the other side.

American typewriter works well if you’re an aspiring Hemingway or Kerouac, but for demand letters, it might be a tad too literary for the average deadbeat debtor.

I would love to draft a Franchise Agreement in Blackadder one day but I fear it might be mistaken for the Menu from Medieval Times. All I can think of is someone yelling “Bring Out Your Dead,” or “None Shall Pass.”

But I use Helvetica and Arial. They have clean lines. Either font is great for agreements or correspondence, but subliminally, the use of these fonts suggests I’d rather be writing for the Globe and Mail. Except for the fact that the Globe and Mail is in Times New Roman.

Damn that font.

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