Fighting Word(s): Using Microsoft Word More Effectively in Your Law Practice
Barbara Engstrom, Executive Director, King County Law Library
There are certain documents that I find drafting on Microsoft Word unendingly frustrating. From unwanted autocorrections to automated formatting issues, it can often feel like a wrestling match to get a document properly formatted. I’m certain that most of you have similar experiences. In good news, there are techniques that can help you improve the efficiency of drafting legal documents on Word. Ross Zimmerman, our Outreach Services Librarian, teaches a CLE to help attorneys tame the beast that is Word and will share some tips in this column. Look for his upcoming CLE, Microsoft Word for Attorneys.
BE: Except for the brave souls trying to make do with Google Docs, it seems like most attorneys are already using Word for legal drafting. How are they doing it wrong?
RZ: Word is a great product, a very capable product—but many of its very helpful capabilities are hidden behind menus or are otherwise obscured. Technically you could just use Word as a simple word processor, like you might use Notepad or TextEdit. Alternatively, you could use Word as an advanced user, with specialized formatting and user-focused workflows. Is the former group’s usage wrong? Perhaps not, if all you need is text on a page. But most attorneys I work with want their documents to look a certain way but have deadlines and don’t want to futz around with Word for hours. And the important part is that advancing your Word skills isn’t hard, it just takes some time to dig through the menus and set the program up to meet your requirements. It’s an investment. Learning some advanced techniques (which really means understanding which functions are under which menu) now, will save you much more time later.
BE: You cover a lot of ground in the class. Give us a quick run-down of what you discuss.
RZ: It’s a lot to fit in an hour. I start with the Why – why bother? I already touched on that – but let’s just say it’s really about feeling some level of proficiency. Word used to make me feel like an idiot, and that’s not a good feeling. To get past that, my class centers on two aspects of a Word document: the formatting of the text and the formatting of the document itself. For the latter piece, we look at how documents are saved, and how they can be saved in other formats. Many people don’t know that Word can be used to edit PDF documents. So, there’s that technical side, as well as concepts like metadata. Word documents contain information about the amount of time you’ve worked on it, about the author, and other information that you might not want shared. There are ways to remove or edit metadata. The other portion of the class is formatting the text of your document: using the “Styles” functionality to easily template out your work. Styles unlocks instant tables of contents and tables of authorities. This sounds like a lot, I know, but you’ll see that it’s simply a matter of clicking your mouse a few times.
BE: What are the top three techniques that you recommend attorneys immediately start using on Word.
RZ: I already mentioned Styles but that is my #1 technique. Styles makes it very easy to make documents look the way you’d like. I don’t want to think about the dozens of hours of my life I’ll never get back because I was stuck in the weeds formatting Word documents, when I could have been using Styles to streamline my processes. Another technique that I touch on in the class is using key commands to make certain tasks more expedient. Off the top of my head, holding down Ctrl and K lets you insert a hyperlink. Holding down Alt and then typing 21 inserts the section symbol (§). Then there’s also a handy button to make your text ALL CAPS, Sentence casing, or Capitalize Every Word. Lastly, this might be cheating since it’s not really a technique per se, but what’s crucial is having a desire to understand. I spent years wandering in the wasteland of Word complacency, just scraping by, and making documents that were just serviceable. But once I buckled down and spent a few hours understanding why the program functions as it does, I’m all the better for it. You can understand Word!
BE: Are there resources either in print or online that you would recommend for attorneys to learn more about using Word effectively?
RZ: In crafting this CLE webinar, I used a book series called The Lawyer’s Guide To Microsoft Word (available at both KCLL locations) and the very thorough Help & Learning website provided by Microsoft. Truthfully though, in my own life I’ve relied on a lot of YouTube videos. If you’re having a particular issue with Word, or if you want it to do something unique, the Good News/Bad News is that none of us are that unique, someone else out there has already had that problem, and they’ve already made a How To video on YouTube! I’ve also heard of a local law library that offers compelling CLE webinars — that sounds immensely helpful…
BE: Nice one Ross – I’ll take that as a hint to plug your upcoming Microsoft Word for Attorneys CLE which will be offered as a webcast on February 15th. For more information on the class or to register go to https://kcll.org/classes-at-the-law-library/classes/cles/
As always, if you need more information on using Word, CLEs, or any other legal research issue, feel free to contact the King County Law Library at firstname.lastname@example.org.