A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What ink colors can you get away with at work?

I have three obsessions vying for my attention: notebooks, fountain pens, and inks. Despite the name of this blog and my nom de plume, notebooks are in third place. Fountain pens and inks are neck-and-neck, but at the moment, I have to give the edge to inks.

My problem: it's hard to use unusual colors at work.

If you think that the legal profession is generally stuffy and conservative, you're wrong. It's ultra-stuffy and ultra-conservative (culturally, not politically). Lawyers even write things a certain way for no other reason than it has always been done that way. That comment applies to style and content, but is probably applicable to form as well.

In other words, I don't think you're going to see an outbreak of J. Herbin Orange Indien or Iroshizuku Yama-budo at American law firms any time soon. When it comes to law firms, I'm betting that 99.5% of all ink used is black or blue. And, if a lawyer is feeling exceptionally daring, he might go out on a limb and sign something in blue-black, thus proving himself a renegade.

One week I signed a letter in Private Reserve Black Cherry (which looks just like it sounds) and another in Iroshizuku Tsukushi (a reddish-brown). It made me as self-conscious as if I'd worn shorts to the office. And I've got something like 60 more ink samples to try out.

So, I got to wondering, what are the limits of "professionalism" when it comes to ink choices?

Let's start with the lawyers out there (I know I had a few of you following me for a while). How "daring" do you get with your ink colors? Would you sign a court document in Private Reserve Avocado? A letter to another lawyer with Noodler's Apache Sunset?

And what about everyone else? Do you feel similarly constrained in your profession, or do you feel free to send a "from the desk of" note written in Waterman Green? How liberal does your job allow you to be with your choice of ink?



  1. Sigh. Blue-black really is about as crazy as it gets for other documents people are going to see.

    For my own notetaking I use lots of colors and no one thinks it is weird when I pull out a purple pen at a meeting, but I'm also known as having "cool" office supplies so maybe it would be weird from anyone else but not from me?

  2. I am not a lawyer, but I am an IT consultant and I have used Waterman Green, Noodler's Army Green, Levenger Cocoa, and Montblanc Burgundy. No one even seems to notice, the notice my pens more than my ink. I'm partial to green because it is not so far out there but it is color that no one else uses.

  3. When editing documents for my assistant or paralegal, I tend to use purple ink. When signing letters, I tend to use black ink. When signing affirmations or briefs, I prefer to use blue ink so that the court clerk can easily distinguish the original from the copy. Luckily, my county adopted an electronic filing requirement for commercial cases so original signatures are not as important. Until the other counties adopt this requirement, I’ll continue to use blue ink for original documents to be filed in court.

  4. My ink selection tends to shades of blue. I rarely use black in a fountain pen because I can get that from a Bic. I've used various shades of brown and burgundy, Noodlers Zhivago (as green as I care to get) and never have gotten a comment. I can't pull the trigger on purple (got Noodlers Concord if you'd like to trade).
    I came back from a visit to NYC with Stipula della Robbia (deep blue) and Noodlers Ellis Island (blue black). So, the rut may be deep but it is wide.

  5. Using J. Herbin's Poissiere de Lune for the first time, I was surprised to find how dark and muted it was. Because of the gray tinge, I think it would be appropriate for business, but it still feels daring, because I know that it's purple :)

    Then again, most of my writing at work is just note-taking for myself, so I use whatever color I want! I just keep an extra pen with black or blue around for signing letters to the FDA.

    Perhaps you should open a law firm filled with fountain pen enthusiasts. Then you can have the most colorful inter-office memos imaginable! (Not to mention knowing what to gift your co-workers).

  6. I'm a little late to the party here but I'll second the previous comment. Most of my writing tends to be my own notetaking but I am partial to blue inks anyway. Anything interoffice is usually typed or emailed. Then again, I don't think about it too much because they all probably regard me as "that crazy fountain pen guy" anyway....

  7. I can't seem to bring myself to sign any professional correspondence, pleadings, motions, or the like with anything other than blue, black, or sometimes blue black. However, in the office for my own notes I use brown, red (especially for editing or emphasis in note taking), sometimes a green...but not much more than that, because I am somewhat typical of the profession in that I can't see purple or pink or orange usable for a man in most situations in our profession...that is a mere personal opinion though.


  8. I feel I was mistaken in using Poussiere de Lune on Crown Mill notecards when sending thank you notes after a second round of interviews. I should've done Quink on Cranes.