Okay, so you’re all set to download and install Google’s Fonts on your desktop and activate them in Google Docs, but now you’re thinking, “which ones should I use?” Picking the right Google Fonts is not an easy task. With over 1,200 free fonts, searching through Google’s selections is daunting. Fortunately, this post is here to help select the best ones for your legal and personal document drafting. (If you’re searching for a non-Google Font, check out these five non-Times New Roman suggestions.)
A primer on font types
I’m not going to spend a large amount of time on font types, faces, or styles. I’m going to assume that most younger readers are familiar with font faces. For typesetting — aka typography — I suggest, Typography for Lawyers (website; website) by Matthew Butterick. Typography‘s style and drafting suggestions are important for anyone who wants to become a better typist, but more importantly, if you want your written words to convey more elegance and authority. Typography gives you the tools to know that there are better fonts than Times New Roman, Arial, or Comic Sans.
And of course, local court rules will always dictate what type of font you use. While most federal court rules permit “any serif font,” your specific district court rule may state otherwise. Read and obey your rules as to the type of fonts you can and should use.
Also, you should understand that Google offers its fonts as a way to improve digital readability. Google Fonts seek to better website design and improve page speed performance, as opposed to convincing a judge that your client wins. Though in my opinion medium doesn’t matter.
Finally, to preface all of my suggestions, I’ll say this:
There are over 1,200 Google Fonts. I obviously cannot evaluate every single font. I’m making suggestions on some of my favorites. If you have one you’d like to suggest, please leave a comment below.
Serif versus Sans-Serif fonts
Stylistically, when you’re trying to make your published works clean and professional, you need to know the difference between serif and sans serif fonts. Serif fonts generally have a small line attached to the end of a stroke in a letter or symbol — see some examples. Serif fonts are considered easier to read, and resemble typewriter writing. Sans-serif fonts do not have the small line at the end of the stroke — see some examples.
When selecting the proper font for your document, it’s important to understand your audience and what you hope to convey or accomplish. Understanding this concept is where Typography is especially useful.
Google Fonts have serif and sans-serif collections.
Serif Google Fonts for legal pleadings
The crème de la crème of Google typfaces has to be Crimson Text. This font is similar to the Century Schoolbook typeface used by SCOTUS. This is the serif font you’ll want to adopt quickly. This six-style font face says elegant and sophisticated with each character.
One of my favorite fonts is Gentium Book Basic. This font comes in four basic styles that I think closely resembles Garamond, but carries a little more weight.
Goudy Bookletter 1911 is a single style font that I believe looks a lot like the Century or Century Roman fonts.
Libre Baskerville has a nice Sir Arthur Conan Doyle feel, which really makes me love this typeface. I think this is another Century style font that is very appealing to most readers. Also, there are only three styles in the collection, so you’re only working with the most important ones.
For traditional Times New Roman fans, I suggest Roboto Slab. This is a four-style font with many of the traditional typewriter characteristics. More importantly, it’s not too “thick” and it’s proportionally spaced nicely, which is important for some jurisdictions.
If you’re really traditional, then you’ll want to consider Merriweather. I really like this eight-style font for its and overall visual appeal.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest a Google Font to replace Courier — i.e. the typewriter look — so I’m suggesting Cutive and Cutive Mono. This typeface comes in one style, so they closely match your old typewriter’s ability.
Neuton is a font face with a more calming look. I’m particularly enamored with the elegance of this font.
If you’d like to give your writing a more old-English, or early 18th century look, try IM Fell English. Personally, I limit use of this font to headings or letterhead, when I want to add some old-world elegance and appeal. A little English goes a long way.
Note: IM Fell DW Pica, a two-style font, looks a lot like this one, with even more emphasis on the old English. You might also like IM Fell English SC, which is a small caps version of the IM Fell English font. Both fonts are one style only.
And finally, I’m a really big fan of Vollkorn. This font has a great name and a great look, especially when it’s typed out in 10, 12, or 13 point. I use Vollkorn or Merriweather for 90 percent of my pleadings.
Sans-serif Google Fonts for general use
Droid Sans is my most used sans-serif font. I’m a “Droid tool,” so the font fits well. But I also like the cleanliness of the font. Note that this is only a two-style font, so you might need another typeface for more in-depth publishing.
Perhaps my second most-used sans-serif font is Open Sans Condensed. This is a three-style font that has clean lines, and really looks good in any medium. I’m known to present legal pleadings written in Open Sans Condensed.
In the pleadings written using Open Sans Condensed, I’ll often use Francois One for headings. This is a bolder font face, even in normal, so I believe it carries some visual strength and aesthetic appeal.
If you like the Merriweather serif font, then I’ll also suggest you add Merriweather Sans to your collection. I don’t use this font nearly enough, even though I love the overall look and the eight different styles.
Cousine is a good, updated Courier New, sans-serif typeface that offers great readability characteristics.
Roboto is a twelve-style font that will get you a lot of mileage and looks good on any type of document.
Note: there is also a Roboto Condensed typeface.
And finally, I like Oswald. It’s a simple, Arial-like font with three styles that just look good.
Oh dear, everyone’s using Oswald
I’m pretty sure that I’ll see a number of legal documents published in one of these font faces. If that’s you, good job! Thank you from everyone who reads your briefs, memos, and pleadings. Our eyes and minds appreciate your efforts.
Do you have a favorite Google Font typeface? Let everyone know in the comments below.