Working With Your Words

by: Duane Cary

You have been using Microsoft Word for years, so may think yourself an expert on it: you must know everything there is about the software after all this time. But do you? How much time and money are you wasting drafting documents because you do not actually realize the potential of the software that you have been updating for years and have been using mainly as an electric typewriter?

Word has many features available that may not be readily obvious to you. For example, are you taking advantage of styles? Styles allow you to set up specific formatting features for your text so that your text will always be consistent. Do you want some of your documents to use a Times New Roman font set at 11 point, but have some of the paragraphs be centered with an Arial font and in italics? By creating your own styles in Word, you can add consistency to your work, efficiency by easily changing a section all at once, and also quickly navigate to other parts of the document.

Additionally, in new versions of Word (2007 and up), do you know about the Quick Access Toolbar? You can easily add options to this toolbar such as New, Print, and other commands so that you do not have to navigate to the File tab while you are working. Need to add a table to your document? Add the command to the toolbar so you can quickly access a table rather than clicking on the Insert tab and having to click on the drop-down for a new table.

How about all the different keyboard shortcuts available in Word? Do you know how to quickly save a document you are working on by pressing Ctrl-S? Or how about Ctrl-F to find a specific word in your document? Is the ribbon at the top of Word getting in the way? Click Ctrl-F1 to collapse it. There are many shortcuts in Word that are just a keyboard stroke or two away to saving you time.

Are you creating your own templates in Word, or are you creating all your legal documents from scratch? By creating templates that are already formatted for a particular document type, such as a pleading for example, you can save time by having Word already formatted and ready to go. All you have to do is type in the necessary information by replacing the default text fields, like the Plaintiff’s name or the Case number.

Now may be a good time to review the Word manual or help file. It might even be beneficial to take an online class or two on how to use Word. Or, if you prefer, there are books available specifically for the lawyer and Word; check out Amazon or the ABA store online to find some of the books available. Learn how to get everything you can out of your existing software now before deciding you need to purchase something else. It really may be necessary to pick up other software if Word cannot perform the functions that you need to run your practice. But make sure that truly is the case before you decide to buy software that you plan on using only 10% of its capabilities, when you may already have something that can do what you want but, due to familiarity, you only know how to use 10% of its capabilities.