Maybe it’s time for a legal document redesign? 24 Mar 2005

24 comments Latest by wibo

With legal document design based on decades old typewriter characters, maybe it’s time for someone to redesign standard legal documents? I guess change is coming — at least this one uses the pipe character instead of parenthesis to string together a vertical line. Progress!

24 comments so far (Jump to latest)

louis 24 Mar 05

i agree, i would like to see someone address the usability of legal forms, as well as things like invoices, packing slips, order forms, etc.

Mike 24 Mar 05

Actually, that’s probably not the pipe character but a two-border table cell rendered in MS Word.

Most legal documents are utter crap from an info design standpoint. Even though lawyers are supposed to know that effective persuasion requires clear communication, few lawyers really understand how the print medium can be used to best communicate.

The “style” of the documents shown (i.e. the part of the document listing the parties, the court, case no., etc.) varies from state to state and even from court to court depending on local rules, but I’ve never seen one that was actually well-designed.

How about some spec work for the courts and their rulemaking committees?

Andrew 24 Mar 05

Isn’t it that if legal docs deviate from the standard, they could be somehow considered legally invalid?

“I challange your case on the grounds that your motion is filed using a sans-serif font, where in this state the requirement clearly states that motions shall be filed using Times New Roman.”

SparqMan 24 Mar 05

Do other countries have more modern designs?

Dru 24 Mar 05

My wife is in law school right now. And man I hate the way their papers are drafted. However, you are talking about redesigning one of the oldest things in western society. Law. With something this improtant, any change can have a huge impact. So much of law is written, and things have very specific meanings. These people refer to cases that are hundreds of years old. Now, I am all for a redesign of some kind but all I ask is that we understand the scope of what we are asking.

Go Go 37BetterLaw

Larry Staton Jr. 24 Mar 05

I’m a paralegal by day, law student by night, and typophile/infodesign/technogeek wannabe in my spare time. I agree that legal documents need to be redesigned. I am reading Tufte and Bringhurst to design my own style for legal documents and forms. I’m sick of reading MS Word memos from the built-in template. I’m longing for ideas and examples, too.

RE: “Isn�t it that if legal docs deviate from the standard, they could be somehow considered legally invalid?” Not quite. The clerk of the court would probably tell you that you couldn’t file your pleading if you didn’t follow the “standard”, but it doesn’t invalidate the pleading. The only problem arises if you are running up against a statute of limitations and the clerk rejects your pleading because you failed to follow the local rules. Then you need to call your malpractice insurer. Local rules aren’t terrible onerous, however. Most require 1- to 1.25-inch margins and 12-point typeface, “double-spaced”. What is done within those parameters is up to the individual.

Apropos to 37Signals, the government should pay you guys to redesign their Electronic Case Filing (ECF) Web interface. It is ghastly. I’m thinking of paying 37Signals out of my own pocket because it’s so bad.

Darrel 25 Mar 05

I work at the MN Judicial Branch.

Legal Forms.



We’re beyond the typewriter, and actually moving towards fillable forms online, but there is a gigantic legacy dependance on hard-formatted paper in the legal system.

Frustrating, to say the least.

dmr 25 Mar 05

Let’s start with the content first! Who speaks this nonsense? Why can’t legal talk be human talk?

Dan Boland 25 Mar 05

Why can�t legal talk be human talk?

Wasn’t there a bill introduced in Congress within the last couple of years that dealt with eradicating arcane language from law? I vaguely remember something along those lines.

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wibo 06 Mar 06

Very good!