Future Law

6 Ways Lawyers Should Be Using Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word graphicWhile many seasoned attorneys still tell tales of electric typewriters buzzing around the office as assistants sat plugged into dictation machines, today’s lawyers occupy a far different desk setup: they’re perched in front of a monitor (or two… or more) with cloud-based software to drive their document production.

The fact that there are more than 1.2 billion Microsoft Office users worldwide makes Microsoft Word the gold standard for word processing. Job hunting in practically any office setting demands Word is among your skillsets, lawyers included.

Nevertheless, although most people use Word, few take advantage of the program’s full capabilities to work more efficiently and improve collaboration with coworkers and clients.

While there are many guides out there for learning and using Microsoft Word, such as the ABA’s guide on Microsoft Word for lawyers, I wanted to share a few tools to consider using in your practice. When applicable, I have included a link to Microsoft’s training portal, which provides a deeper dive.

Use Quick Parts

Whether it’s a contract clause or a section to a pleading, lawyers often use sentences, phrases, or even entire paragraphs that are repeated in various documents.

To maintain consistency and accuracy, you may be in the habit of opening a recent document so you can copy and paste the text into the new draft. That’s where Quick Parts can work for you.

Found under the “Insert” menu, Quick Parts stores commonly used text so you can access it from any document. To add a selection to your Quick Part Gallery, first select the text in your document. Then click on the Insert tab and the Quick Parts command in the ribbon. Finally, click Save Selection to Quick Part Gallery.

 

Microsoft Quick Parts screenshot

Now your perfectly crafted clauses or paragraphs will always be a click away, which will save time in the future.

After you save a selection to the Quick Part Gallery, you can reuse it by clicking Quick Parts and choosing the selection from the gallery. [Learn how to use Quick Parts and AutoText in Word.]

Use templates

Now, if you want an entire document to be your starting point for a pleading or contract, then Quick Parts isn’t sufficient. Instead, you want to create a well-crafted template to serve as a launching pad for each draft. This improves consistency and quality for you and your entire office.

For example, if you’re using Microsoft Word to draft a residential lease for property in a certain municipality, you can create a template with a predefined format (e.g., page layout, fonts, margins, styles, etc.) as well as specific contract terms that apply to that jurisdiction (e.g., security deposit terms that correspond to each municipal code).

This template can be used again and again, saving you from having to create a new lease from scratch or searching for a recent, similar document to duplicate.

 

PRO TIP: When building your templates, compare your drafts with the format and language provided in any court-approved forms. For example, in Illinois, specific standardized statewide court forms have been approved for use by the Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice and are required to be accepted in all Illinois courts.

 

By having established templates for use by all in your organization, you keep your work product consistent and professional. Additionally, updates due to changes in statutory requirements or local rules, for example, can be made to the relevant template(s) so outdated versions don’t get reintroduced into your workflow. [Learn how to use templates in Word.]

‘Text only’ copy/paste + Format Painter

Don’t compromise all of your hard work building templates by pasting content in from another source into your document and adding unwanted formatting.

For lawyers, even when you’ve used Quick Parts and templates, you still need to customize your work product with outside materials, such as inserting caselaw.

To keep consistency within your document when you introduce content with copy and paste, be sure to use the “keep text only” option for pasting. When pasting using the “keep text only” option, the content should match the existing formatting of the document.

 

PRO TIP: Set your default pasting command to “keep text only” especially when pasting from other programs such as your internet browser. By default, Word preserves the original formatting when you paste the content into a document using CTRL + V, the paste button, or right-click + paste. [Learn how to control the formatting when you paste text.]

 

You may now easily control the formatting as you wish after pasting.

When using Microsoft Word, one easy way to tell it to match the existing formatting is to use Format Painter. Format painter is on the home tab and quickly applies the same formatting (such as color, font style and size, and border style) to multiple pieces of text.

 

Microsoft Word Format Painter screenshot

 

This is a quick and effective way to make sure your fonts, sizing, spacing, etc., are consistent. [Learn how to use the Format Painter.]

Use Compare Documents

Any lawyer will tell you that words matter. Even proper punctuation matters, as we’ve seen in cases like the missing comma that cost a Portland-based dairy trucking company some $10 million (as the opinion appropriately begins, “For want of a comma, we have this case.”). Much of the value in a lawyer’s work product comes in the content and detail of the carefully crafted prose.

Whether you’re sharing a draft with your client, co-counsel, or even opposing counsel, trusting your own eyes to confirm any and all changes made is an unnecessary risk that can lead to buried mistakes sneaking by.

Let Word do the work for you by using the Compare Documents tool in the Review tab to compare two versions of a document and see how they differ. You can also combine versions from multiple authors into a single document. Learn how to compare and/or merge two versions of a document.

 

Microsoft Compare Documents screenshot

 

Remove metadata

While converting any shared Word document into a PDF may be a good practice, there are times when you need to share the Word version so others can edit it.

Still, you should do all you can to eliminate hidden information (“metadata”) contained in the document, including past tracked changes, comments, and various authors’ names.

When you share your Word document with clients or colleagues, remove the hidden data and personal information on a clean copy.

The Document Inspector feature in Word (under the File tab, then Info, and Check for Issues) helps you find and remove hidden data and personal information in documents you plan to share. [Learn how to remove hidden information from a Word document.]

 

Microsoft Inspect Document screenshot

 

Let me know what you think of these Microsoft Word tips and how they improve your workflow. How else are you using Microsoft Word? Let us know in the comments below.

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