Friday, March 25, 2011

ALOTT5MA FRIDAY GRAMMAR RODEO (AND STYLE GUIDE):  A site called Typography for Lawyers insists: "In a printed doc­u­ment, don’t under­line. Ever. It’s ugly and it makes text harder to read."  Because:
Under­lin­ing is another holdover from the type­writer age. Type­writ­ers had no bold or italic styling. So the only way to empha­size text was to back up the car­riage and type under­scores beneath the text. It was a workaround for short­com­ings in type­writer tech­nol­ogy.

Your word proces­sor does not suf­fer from these short­com­ings. If you feel the urge to under­line, use bold or italic instead.

Not con­vinced? I invite you to find a book, news­pa­per, or mag­a­zine that under­lines text. I notice it only in the tabloids. Is that the look you’re going for? No, I didn’t think so.
The Maroonbook agrees, but I'm not convinced. I still like using underlining for case names. There's something elegant to me about Marbury v Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803), which isn't as apparent when formatting it as Marbury. Moreover, I find many more problems with italics in terms of accidentally italicizing spaces and punctuation marks which are more easily thwarted with underlining. When you underline, you know exactly where the formatting ends.

Related question: if you underline case names, can you still italicize other things in the same document like See or de minimis?


  1. Adam C.8:53 AM

    Don't underline.  With the usual caveat:  Unless the Local Court Rules (or the policies and procedures for the judge in your case) tell you to.

  2. Italics for case names, but I like using underlining for section headers or sub-headers.

  3. ChinMusic9:07 AM

    I'll take original recipe Adam's position on underlining, for the reasons stated, with Adam C.'s caveat.  As to the related question, if you underline case names, I think you have to underline signals, too.  That said, I'd still italicize non-english phrases.   

  4. Adam C.9:23 AM

    Agree that consistency is the key (though a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds).  You ought to treat signals the same way you treat case names. 

    I italicize non-english phrases, but (1) only when they haven't become common parlance -- for me, de minimis wouldn't fall into that category, and (2) I try to use italicizable non-English phrases sparingly, if at all, favoring plain language over jargon in most situations.

    For headers and subheads, I prefer to use BOLD CAPS, Bold Italics, Normal, and Italics.  Again, I'll underline too if court convention is to do so.

  5. Genevieve9:26 AM

    We underline case names and signals.  It always looks odd to me when things are italicized, just from unfamiliarity.  But underlining is actually more of a pain, because you have to make sure you don't have underlines in the spaces between things like "<span>see</span> <span>also</span>," and a mistakenly underlined comma or period looks worse than a mistakenly italicized same.

  6. Will K9:43 AM

    I am so lazy in my brief writing that I practially italicize everything. That way I can <span>underline</span> and bold when I want to make a point that should be obvious to the learned bench - I can then use my favorite ridiculous legalism "emphasis added"

  7. We'll do outlining of briefs later, but I never, ever use itals as a header level format.

  8. Andrew9:59 AM

    Coming from the web first, I think that having case names underlined is almost like them being a hyperlink.  And it also makes it easy to scan through a document for citations. But signals should always be italicized. 

  9. The only reason I'd use itals in a header level would be if I'm referring to a case/doctrine in the heading--e.g., "The Supreme Court's decision in Traffix requires that this case be dismissed."

  10. gretchen10:16 AM

    Italicize, do not underline.  I find that when case names and signals are underlined, my eye jumps directly to those things.  I find it distracting.  Italics are more integrated with the text and make for an easier reading experience. 

    A prior firm required that all cases be formatted without underlining the v., like this:  <span>Marbury</span> v. <span>Madison</span>.   That was annoying.

    As a result of working on a lot of law journal in law school, I can spot an italicized comma from a mile away. 

  11. Genevieve10:41 AM

    We had a whole discussion (jokingly, mostly) about whether it was possible to tell if a period had been italicized.  This one isn't.  This one is. Can you spot the difference?

  12. Typography for Lawyers could well have been channeling my exact opinion: underlining is ugly and makes things harder to read, unless the court rules are forcing you to use Courier typeface. I avoid it for everything except the signature block.

    I avoid italics in header levels, except for case names, as Matt indicates.

  13. Genevieve10:46 AM

    Actually, on screen here it's more apparent than it is in a document in Times New Roman 12-point.  But I was the one who argued that I could tell the difference.

  14. Yep, I hate underlining.  I italicize everything.  It IS a holdover, and an ugly one at that.  Unless, of course, a court tells me otherwise. 

  15. loyal reader11:45 AM

    As a current criminal justice major, we're being taught to italicize all cases - including as the heading on a case brief.  I don't like the way underlining looks but I realize that's a personal preference more than a "right or wrong" thing.  Although I guess somebody has decided italicized is "right" since that's how they're teaching it at the University I attend.

    And funnily enough I had to brief Marbury v. Madison for an assignment this week. 

  16. spacewoman12:51 PM

    I held out for underlining until I moved to my current office, where they immediately shamed me out of it.  Now it looks weird and old-timey to me.  But I hate italicized punctuation so much that I will take the time in the middle of typing to un-italicize each period and comma and then go back into italics.  That's right.

  17. djdebs1:18 PM

    Yeah, Courier is the exception.  I recently wrote my first BAP (Bankruptcy Appellate Panel) opinion, and the BAP uses Courier.  They also use WordPerfect, but don't get me started on that.  I've been italicizing and/or bolding for emphasis and case names for most of my career, but in Courier, you can't see it, so then underlining is essential.  

    But as someone who reads briefs now, I'll tell you that I really don't mind underlining.  Other things disrupt my reading more, like right justification (it makes the spacing weird and distracts me),  USING CAPS FOR EMPHASIS (stop yelling), and overuse/misspelling of Latin terms (so I must compliment Adam on the correct spelling of "de minimis").  Ultimately, though, I don't think any of it matters too much.  It really is about the content.

  18. GoldnI1:23 PM

    Personally, I think we should all just do this:

    But as your friendly 3L law journal editor, I will red-pen your ass if it's not properly italicized.  Or if you use the wrong introductory signal.

  19. isaac_spaceman2:07 PM

    <span>I italicize case names and latin words, but I underline for emphasis.  Why?  A crusty old lawyer whose writing I liked made me do it that way.  He also explained his reasoning:  emphasis should actually emphasize, and as Gretchen mentions, underlining actually draws you to the words.   
    Of course, you should be judicious in your emphasizing -- if you do it more than once or twice in a brief, or if you do it in every brief, you are doing it too much.  But I'm not one of those lawyers who thinks that you should never add emphasis.  Sometimes the proper reading of an order or case or the proper understanding of an argument requires attention to particular syntax that might otherwise get swallowed up in a sea of imprecision by your learned adversaries.  If your argument is premised upon the Privileges <span>and</span> Immunities Clause, and your opponent is mistakenly relying on authority construing the Privileges <span>or</span> Immunities Clause, emphasis is your friend.  </span>

  20. Jenn.2:45 PM

    I prefer italics, but don't get annoyed if someone else uses underlying.  Using bolding as emphasis, however, annoys me to no end.  Seriously---I'm reading your brief.  There is no need to yell at me.

    I suspect that I know what firm Gretchen is referencing.  Very well may be the same firm where I was a baby lawyer.

  21. Jenn.2:54 PM

    Underlining.  Not sure how one underlies.  Maybe by failing to tell the little lies like "No, you don't look fat, dear?"

  22. Mr. Cosmo5:09 PM

    I'm an italicizer.  But, as with just about everything in life, I do what my comment editor tells me.

  23. I prefer to underline in briefs, memos, etc., but I italicize in the citations of more academic writing, as is the standard for my journal.  I think having been a journal editor makes you more sensitive to this kind of stuff: I, too, go crazy about italicizing punctuation, spaces and the like.

    The underlining preference in briefs/memos comes from my 1L legal writing professor, who liked it that way.

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