Take a look at your blog design. What message does it send to readers? Take a look at the font you are using for your blog. Is is easy to read?

I have seen many lawyer blog designs that are not upscale. I see many blog fonts that are too small and not easy to read. I shared my feelings with Fox Rothschild lawyer Matthew Payne and he shared a story with me I thought would be valuable for all lawyer bloggers and writers. I asked Matt to share it with you.

Writing TipsA discussion with a colleague on how to respond to opposing counsel’s brief veered off course yesterday when neither of us could get past the document’s shoddy and unprofessional appearance. Our otherwise formidable adversary had filed—as was his practice—a brief that looked like it had been typed on a 1980s vintage electric typewriter, hand edited with white out, and finally mimeographed in a church basement.

But it was the brief’s wide, elementary-school-writing-sample-style font that got me thinking about how the appearance of a document can color your impression of its content, and reminded me of Errol Morris’ excellent 2012 experiment-cum-essay in the New York Times. Morris, an accomplished documentary filmmaker and essayist—you may recall 2003’s Oscar-winning The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara—started with a ruse directed to his readers: Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist?

Morris presented an expert opinion concerning the likelihood that an asteroid would cause global catastrophe, and asked readers how convinced they had been by the expert. Different readers, however, saw the expert’s statement in a variety of different fonts. In a two part essay: Hear, All Ye People; Hearken, O Earth (Part One), and Hear, All Ye People; Hearken, O Earth (Part 2), Morris came clean, explaining that his purpose had been to explore how font, and even handwriting style, influences the reader.

Morris’ big conclusion (and don’t let my spoiling the ending keep you from reading the essay—with Morris, the journey is its own reward) is that Baskerville is the font most effective at convincing the reader of the truth of the printed material. It will surprise no one that the playful Comic Sans font is unconvincing, but you might not suspect that clean, upright Helvetica also faired poorly.

My point in revisiting Morris’ work is not to convince you to change the defaults on your word-processing software, but rather to remind you not to lose sight of the fact that appearances matter. Many of us rely on a talent for convincing others via the written word to earn our livelihood, and convincing a judge, a business partner, or a potential client often comes down to the fine points of presentation. So as you go about your work today, take the time to spell-check, standardize your citations, add toner to the printer, sign your name with a flourish, and take in the appearance of your work with a critical eye. You never know what cut corner or sloppy choice will be the one that convinces the reader that your otherwise compelling argument is unconvincing.

When it comes to design, I relied on the professionals at LexBlog to create an upscale design for me. I urge the firms with whom I am working to use LexBlog for the same reason. LexBlog also helped with the font for my blog. I know it is not Baskerville. After hearing the story Matt shared, I may have my friends at LexBlog take a look at that font.