General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionTechnology & Practice Guide
WINTER 1998 - VOLUME 1, NUMBER 2 << BACK TO TABLE OF CONTENTS
As a solo practitioner with a busy Social Security Disability and Workman’s Compensation practice, I am always looking for ways to make my work life easier, more productive, and less complicated. A few years ago, a lawyer friend of mine suggested that I personally handle more of my own drafting and correspondence instead of delegating it all to my two secretaries. He promised me that by doing so, I would not only be able to serve my clients better, but that it would totally transform my practice. And guess what—he was right!
Once I’d committed to a more hands-on approach in dealing with my daily drafting responsibilities, I knew I needed to find the tools that would enable me to be as productive and efficient as possible. I try to take advantage of some of the less expensive, more accessible technology whenever possible. WordPerfect 7.0 for Windows (WP7) offers an Address Book and Template feature that I have found to be particularly useful. This is not the same Address Book featured in WP6; WP7’s Address Book does a lot more and does it a lot better than its predecessor. However, WP6.1 does have some of the advances that are available in WP7, so if you currently have WP6.1 experiment with it—some of the options that work in WP7 may just work for you.
A New, Improved WordPerfect Address Book
In my pre-WP7 days, I used Lotus AmiPro, with a subdirectory entitled, “Addresses,” from which I could insert the full name and address of anyone I wrote to frequently into documents and correspondence. Each addressee had a file in the subdirectory. This method worked okay. It certainly was a lot better than having to look up the name and address every time I needed one. But the template feature was much less useful, since I had to reenter the information each time I worked with a template. WP7 and its Address Book and Template features changed all of that.
WP7’s Address Book ties in closely with the Template feature, which makes it easier to generate a form, insert information about a doctor, lawyer, or client, and create a finished form or document in much less time. I use it for Patient Authorization for Release of Information forms, requests for medical records, client retainer letters, fee agreements, complaints for federal court, settlement documents, discovery, pleadings, and a lot more.
Templates Are Your Friends
Templates allow you to create standard documents, using variables and prompts (text that is designed to elicit a certain response, e.g., “Enter the name of the opposing counsel”) for information that varies from document to document such as names and addresses. With WP7, not only can I index those prompts to the Address Book, but I can index such information as Social Security numbers, as well. I can also generate multiple documents at once, by opening one template and responding to the prompts just one time. It used to take me two hours to prepare a detailed letter, with case authority and particulars, a cover letter, and an accompanying form, to appeal a denial. Now I can prepare most of that, all at once, with one template and a few prompts from the Address Book. I finish in twenty minutes at most, instead of two hours, and I can do all of this while my client is in my office.
How difficult is this process? Pretty simple, really; first, you need to look at the Template feature. When you open a New File (click the menu, “File,” and “New”), select the “Options” button, and choose “New Template” from the list of options. You will see a blank document screen. You can either draft a document from scratch or click “Insert File,” to open and insert a document that you use often. Next identify variable information that will change each time you generate the document, and type in a name for that variable, such as “Client Name,” “Client Address,” “Client City,” “Client ZIP Code,” and so on. From there, click the button, “Build Prompts.” A “Build Prompts” dialogue box will appear and ask you to identify the variables or prompts. Click the “Add” button, and the program will ask for the prompt, and for the “Link to Address Book” field. You then type “Client Name” in the first block, and click on the down arrow on “Link to Address Book.” One of the possibilities is “Name,” so you click on that. Then, at the “Build Prompts” dialogue box, you paste that prompt into the template wherever appropriate. Now when you open a template and select an Address Book entry it will place the name information in those spots. In WP7, you can paste those variables or prompts anywhere in the document.
The Address Book offers the option to customize fields. However, this is a cumbersome process. It is much easier to appropriate some of the existing fields for your own use. For instance, there is a field called, “Mailstop.” I doubt that most people in Iowa even have a mailstop. Instead, I input client Social Security numbers in this field. There is another field called “E-mail Type.” I use this field to list the type of case, for example, Workman’s Compensation or Social Security Disability. As you work with it, you will figure out the fields you need and those you don’t. I create certain agency forms for an Iowa workman’s compensation agency. I can complete these forms by using variables and prompts, almost all of which are from the Address Book. However, not all of the prompts have to come from the Address Book. For instance, you may want to add a file number; to do this simply add that as a prompt and paste it in the right place when you create the template. Then, when you open that template and you are asked for that information, you merely have to enter it in the appropriate field.
Get Creative and Productive
Obviously there are more ways to use the Address Book and templates than just inputting clients’ names, addresses, and Social Security numbers. You can use the prompts for anything that changes from document to document. In some pleadings, I don’t have to enter my client’s address, but I do have to include the address of opposing counsel. In that case, I develop a template that indexes the prompts to opposing counsel’s name and address, and then fill in the prompts for my client’s name, the opposing party’s name, and the file number, without indexing them to the Address Book. If I were drafting a settlement document, I would insert a few more prompts, such as the settlement amount, the nature of the dispute, the part of the body involved, the sections of the statute involved, and other information that appears more than once in the document.
The only limitation that I face when working with the Address Book is that it can only handle twelve variables and prompts. But those twelve can be inserted into the template as many times as needed. To get around this, I have the option to create variables and prompts that are not tied to the Address Book.
The Address Book also allows me to include more than one document in a template. I can include the settlement document, the order approving the settlement, the cover letter to opposing counsel conveying the settlement document, and even an envelope, and I only have to answer the prompts once.
The more I work with WP7, the more ways I find to squeeze more use out of the Address Book and Template features. I can create a client disbursal statement based on a table I have already created in WP7. I can actually input all of the formulas right into the table without using a spreadsheet application. All I have to do is open the template, enter the names of the parties, the amount of the settlement or award, and the costs, and in a split second, all the figuring is done for me. It used to take me fifteen minutes just to remember how to calculate a disbursal, do the actual calculations, double check my figures, and write it up. It was just one more hassle. Now, it’s all finished and printed in twenty seconds. I actually enjoy preparing disbursals now.
I use templates without any prompts when drafting responses to standard workman’s compensation interrogatories that I receive from the same defense lawyers case after case. Each lawyer has his or her own variation, so I have a template for each lawyer’s interrogatories. Then when the client comes in to answer interrogatories, I just pull the template up and start working away at the answers. In an hour or so, we have the interrogatories answered, with a pleading, cover letter, and affidavit, and I can hand my client the finished product before he or she leaves. This goes a long way toward increasing client satisfaction.
The Next Generation
I occasionally contemplate moving to a full-fledged document assembly product that could customize my documents more elegantly. (See p. 24 of this issue for a full discussion on document assembly.) Perhaps I will someday. However for now, I am content to stick with WP7’s Address Book and Template features. After all, they can do about 70 percent of what the average document assembly product can do—and they are readily accessible to me through my word processing program.
WP7’s Address Book and Template features have made me more productive and have helped to increase client satisfaction with my services. I recommend using these features to anyone who wants a more productive practice—particularly those who already use WP7.
H. Edwin Detlie is an attorney in solo practice in Ottumwa, Iowa, concentrating in Social Security Disability and Workman’s Compensation law. He would like to know what you think, about WP7’s Address Book and Template features, including new ways that you have used them. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.