Fonts are only one ingredient of typography. And good fonts are neither necessary nor sufficient for good typography. It’s possible to do excellent typography with system fonts; it’s also possible to do awful typography with great fonts.
In addition to the recommendations below, also explore the links to the right labeled “Better options for…” Those font recommendations are categorized by similarity to existing system fonts.
What makes a font suitable for legal writing? I like fonts that seem “at home” in a legal document — clean, authoritative, but not humdrum or self-consciously offbeat. I also look for fonts that have noncontroversial italic and bold styles, because lawyers use those frequently. Of course, I also want to be able to get small caps.
Concourse is my latest font family, a sans serif that can be used as a companion for Equity, or on its own. Concourse is influenced by sans serifs of the 1930s, but has many modern conveniences. You can get it here at TFL. Concourse and Equity are available together at a discount.
Equity is a text family I’ve designed, inspired by the needs of legal writers. Equity combines the classic elegance of letterpress type with the convenient features of a contemporary design. You can get it right here at TFL.
Lyon Text. Kai Bernau’s font is based on the work of 16th-century French typographer Robert Granjon. The New York Times Magazine uses it for body text (and so do I, in the Typography for Lawyers book). Font sample.
Miller has a sharp look popular in newsmagazines. It’s used throughout New York magazine, my favorite periodical. If you like the system font Georgia, consider Miller — they were both designed by Matthew Carter, and have many shared characteristics. Font sample.
Williams Caslon is based on the 18th-century designs of British font designer William Caslon. This version, designed by William Berkson, is a very spirited and well-made revival, neatly balanced between modern and traditional. Font sample.
Mercury is a contemporary text font by Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones. Mercury was designed for newspapers but has also found a home in magazines, including the Atlantic. Font sample.
Bodoni. Even people who don’t know much about fonts often know the name Bodoni. But you shouldn’t use Bodoni. The characters have very high contrast and they’re not appealing to read when laserprinted at normal text sizes. Bodoni is often used at large sizes on the covers of fashion magazines. That’s a good place for you to admire it. Font sample.
Bookman. Many computers have some version of Bookman lurking around. Don’t use Bookman unless you want your brief to look like it was printed during the Ford administration. If fonts were clothing, this would be the corduroy suit. Font sample.
A testimonial from a reader:
I’d been using Times Roman as default font for years. At your site’s suggestion I began using Goudy a couple months ago. (I think that’s the only one of your favorites that comes with my computer.) At first I thought it looked more elegant but otherwise was no big deal. Over time, I’ve become psychologically dependent on it. Somehow it puts me more at ease. Now when Times Roman comes up I want to retch. It’s like the aesthetic difference between a Mac and a PC.
Feel the magic for yourself.