July 2006
Volume 2, Number 4
Table of Contents

Improving Your Work Product: Essential Word Skills for Lawyers

By Adriana Linares

It used to be that the recipient of your very pricey legal documents could not see how your documents were fashioned. Fax machines and snail-mail kept all “dupe and revise” and real cutting and pasting efforts hidden behind a physical curtain. That is certainly not the case these days as a simple push of the "Show/Hide" button in any word processor swings the hood of your document wide open for all to see. Every tap of the keyboard is revealed as easily as potentially dangerous hidden data. Along with what the eye can see, also consider that your client or a co-editor can also gauge how much you or your secretary know – or worse, DON’T know – about creating professional documents. From the moment you hit Send, the points you are trying to make can be lost on the recipient who is struggling to understand the flow of your document via their monitor.

If you must send documents in Word (as opposed to the natural-first-choice of Adobe PDF) then you might consider taking some time to learn how to properly format text in Word. There's a lot to learn so we’ll start small and review some basics that every attorney can and should master.

Understand Cut/Copy and Paste Option in Word

If you only learn one thing make it this: understand how to cut or copy text from your original document and paste into the document you have open in Word (or WordPerfect).

When you paste text from another document, an email or even a web page the original formatting is often retained. That is, if you copy a paragraph from an old WordPerfect document that was automatically numbered, Courier New and font size 12 then paste it into Word, Word will paste it with “as-is”. What you most likely want is to have the copied/pasted text to blend seamlessly into your current document which might be Times New Roman, 12, justified and using Word’s own numbering system. So how can this be accomplished?

The classic method of pasting text without formatting is to go to Edit > Paste Special > Unformatted (or a similar option, like Text). This still works and is great but can be considered The Long Way.

When you paste in Word, you should automatically see a Paste Options icon (which appears as a clipboard). Upon sight, you can click directly on that icon (or you can simply ignore it to see a list of handy paste options which are:

  • Keep original formatting: think of  “as-is” – the text is pasted just as it you saw it when you selected it to paste. You can also add a “without guarantee” caveat. This option is usually the least desired as hidden codes or text can often wreak havoc in Word.
  • Match Destination Formatting: changes the text formatting of the pasted to match that of the surrounding text and paragraph. This option is better than Keep Source Formatting, but not as good as…
  • Keep Text Only: which strips all previously applied formatting, leaves text good as new as if you had typed it from scratch.

If you don’t see the Paste Options Icon, go to Tools > Options > Edit Tab and place a check in the “Show Past Options Button” box.

Keep it Together: How to Keep phrases from breaking to the next line

A non-breaking space is a special character you can insert between text that you don't want split on two lines. All sorts of word-processing acrobatics have been witnessed in attempt to keep a date, a name or a special phrase on the same line. All these efforts, of course, futile as there is no guarantee that formatting will stick from one computer to the next. But why go through all that when simple brute force will do? Hold Ctrl + Shift + the Spacebar to insert non-breaking spaces between the text you want to force together.

Why Does Word Do That?

Few law firm trainers will argue that the number one complaint heard from lawyers and staff is: "I can't control Word. It has a mind of its own." That comment is often preceded by, "I hate Word" - which makes a trainer’s heart hurt. It’s important to take control – you can tell Word what is expected and what is not.

For example:

  • DO capitalize the first letter of a sentence
  • DON’T convert a (c) to a ©
  • DO convert www.something.com  to a hyperlink
  • DON’T automatically number and indent when I type the number 1

Here are a couple of ways to set these options:

  1. Most of the settings to turn features off or on and alter the way Word behaves are under Tools > Options. Take a few minutes to poke around in there and customize Word to suit your likes and dislikes.
  2. Word is programmed to correct things like misspelled words or words you forget to capitalize. To change these settings and some others:
  • Go to Tools > AutoCorrect Options. You will see 5 tabs.
  • Click on the AutoCorrect and AutoFormat as you Type tabs and clear or set the check boxes for the items that you want on or off.

Learn to automate your Word Work Day

If you aren't using Word (or WordPerfect’s) automation tools you could be killing yourself. You might as well have a typewriter in front of you. Word offers Autotext tools that will store and insert words, sentences, clauses, captions - just about anything you want – on your command. For example, when I type "al" then tap the space bar, Word turns "al" into "Adriana Linares". Have a standard caption or signature block that you use often? Same goes. You'll use it for anything you type often or find tedious to create and format each time. It's very easy to use. Here's how in Word (WordPerfect is very similar):

  1. Highlight/select the text (you can include a graphic) to be stored as an AutoText entry. Be sure to select EXACTLY what you want.
  2. To store paragraph formatting with the entry, include the paragraph mark at the end of the selection.
  3. Go to Tools > AutoCorrect.
  4. Select AutoCorrect for anything less than one line in length. Select the AutoText tab for anything longer than one line.
  5. You’ll see two columns, Replace and With. If you’re creating an entry for your name, “Thomas W. O’Connor, III”, you can type “tw” in the Replace column. Don’t use initials or shortcuts that are actual words such as “to” and don't waste time with too many  letters or caps, this is just a shortcut to your real text. For AutoText (remember more than one line), you'll need to use a phrase longer than two words because Word inserts an entry only after four words have been typed.
  6. Be sure to click ADD when you're done.
  7. Now open a new document and type your shortcut text. If you are using AutoCorrect, the space bar will invoke your text. For AutoText, look for a yellow box above your cursor, when you see it, hit Enter.
    Bonus: If you use Word as your email editor in Outlook then all your entries will work there too!

Think about your Word documents as digital calling cards. They reflect your professionalism and attention to detail. Today, the appearance of a word processing document often reveals as much about an attorney’s skills as the contents of the document itself. Document creation and editing skills are critical in today’s professional and technical environment.

Web Resources and Links:

Adriana Linares of LawTech Partners is a legal technology trainer based in Orlando, Florida. Adriana travels the country delivering "tech therapy" sessions to firms of all shapes and sizes. Using her practical and personal approach to technology she helps law offices make the most of their technology investments. Throughout the year, she can be found speaking at conferences on topics such as productivity through technology, successful training techniques, law office software, mobility, and gadgets. She writes regularly for leading legal magazines and websites and hosts her own advice column on her blog, I ♥ Tech.

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