How to Format Legal Document Margins


Proper formatting is crucial for legal documents to look professional, polished, and be taken seriously. Legal documents include everything from contracts and petitions to memos and briefs. While fonts, line spacing, and document layout might seem like minor details, they significantly impact how readable and organized your legal writing is.

One important but often overlooked aspect of formatting legal documents is setting the page margins correctly. The margin, which is the white space between text and the edge of the paper, plays a vital role in the overall presentation. Consistent margins make legal documents look clean, aligned, and readable, ensuring a professional appearance. In this article, we’ll delve into the standard margin formatting for legal documents and how to set margins to 1-inch in Microsoft Word. Additionally, we’ll touch upon the significance of the left margin, top margin and right margin in legal document templates composition, how to set margins to 1-inch in Microsoft Word, and explore additional formatting elements like line numbers, table of contents, lines of text, text field and the best way to handle text within a Word processor or word document.

The standard paper size used for legal document drafting in the U.S. is 8.5 x 11 inches, also known as US Letter size. Occasionally, you may encounter “legal size” paper, which is slightly longer at 8.5 x 14 inches. However, the 8.5×11 inch Letter size is far more common and should be used unless specified otherwise. When formatting margins, it’s essential to consider the starting paper size to ensure consistency and proper layout.

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The standard recommended font for legal documents is Times New Roman 12pt. Times New Roman is a classic serif font known for its professional, readable style. The 12pt font size ensures the text is large enough to be easily read without being overly large. Other acceptable serif font choices include Garamond, Palatino, or Century Schoolbook, typically ranging between 10 to 12pt in size. It’s important to avoid stylized sans-serif fonts like Arial or Calibri, as well as fonts with script or calligraphy styles. The chosen font should always maintain a professional, classic, and easily readable appearance.

In legal documents, it’s standard practice to use double spacing for the lines throughout the text. Double spacing prevents the text from appearing cramped and facilitates easier editing or reviewing by providing ample space for making necessary annotations. It’s crucial to ensure zero extra spacing between paragraphs to maintain the default double spacing for text continuity and readability.

The standard margins for legal documents are 1 inch on all sides – top, bottom, left, and right. The left margin and right margin play a pivotal role in document readability and aesthetics. The 1-inch margins create sufficient white space around the text, ensuring that the document looks properly formatted and professional.

Setting these margins in Microsoft Word involves:

  • Clicking the Layout tab and selecting Margins
  • Choosing the Normal setting, which sets margins to 1 inch all around
  • Customizing margins by entering 1 inch for all sides if needed
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Maintaining uniform 1-inch margins is standard for most legal documents, including court motions, memoranda, briefs, and contracts. However, specific court forms may necessitate different margins, such as pleading paper. It’s advisable to always check and adhere to precise margin requirements when dealing with court forms to meet submission standards.

Text alignment in legal documents should be justified, ensuring an even alignment along both the left and right margins. Fully justified alignment enhances the document’s overall appearance, making it look organized and professional. To set justification in Microsoft Word:

  • Select all text by pressing Ctrl + A
  • Click the Home tab and choose Justify under Paragraph Alignment

It’s important to avoid left or right-aligned text, as these alignments can appear unprofessional in legal documents. Only use center alignment for headings, titles, or captions under images. The body text should always maintain a justified alignment for consistency and readability.

Page Numbers and Margins

Include page numbers on every page except the first page to assist in document organization and reference. Proper placement of page numbers in the footer, whether centered or right-aligned, maintains document professionalism. To add page numbers in Microsoft Word:

  • Click Insert > Page Number
  • Select a centered or right-aligned style for the footer

Formatting page numbers to match the font style of the document ensures a cohesive appearance. Right-clicking the number, selecting Format Page Numbers, and choosing the appropriate font maintains consistency throughout the document.


Utilizing proper formatting, including maintaining 1-inch margins, enhances the overall presentation of legal documents, portraying professionalism and organization. Adhering to standard formatting practices ensures that documents are easily readable, editable, and referenceable. Remember these key formatting tips:

  • Utilize 1-inch margins on letter size (8.5×11 in) paper for a polished appearance
  • Opt for 12pt Times New Roman or a similar serif font for readability
  • Employ double spacing with no extra space between paragraphs
  • Maintain justified text alignment for uniformity and professionalism
  • Include centered or right-aligned page numbers in the footer for document reference
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By following these standard legal document formatting conventions, you exhibit a comprehensive understanding of creating professional legal writing. Employ this guide on margins, fonts, alignment, and spacing when drafting legal contracts, court motions, client memos, and other legal documents to ensure a professional and polished presentation that reflects your expertise as a legal professional in law firms.

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