March 2003  Volume 29, Issue 2
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Technolawyer.com Feature by John Heckman
10 Steps to Transform Word into a Legal Tool
Spending a few extra minutes to customize your settings can help you tame the beast we know as Microsoft Word 2002.

Most people use Microsoft Word "out of the box." But that's a mistake that deprives you of power and increased ease of use. You will be better off if you go through and tweak the default settings to best suit your style of working. You can find the settings under Tools-Options and Tools-Customize. You will want to review all of them, but here are top recommendations for turning Word 2002 into a true law office productivity tool.

1. Menus. By default, Word shows truncated or variable menus (including your most recently used functions). As a result, you can never tell where something is supposed to be. To switch to full menus, select Tools-Customize-Options-Always Show Full Menus. Also check the option "Show the Keyboard Shortcuts on Menu Options."

2. Smart Tags. This feature is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it can be useful for importing information from MS Outlook. On the other hand, its main function is to "leap" directly to a Web site. This linking ability can be useful for referencing online legal research, but it opens the door to both abuse and viruses. You may wish to turn it off at Tools-Options-Save-Embed Smart Tags Off.

3. WordPerfect 6.1 Justification. Word fully justifies documents by adding space between words, which makes documents difficult to read. WordPerfect adjusts the space between both words and letters, which leads to a much smoother look. Choose Tools-Options-Compatibility-Full Justification Like WordPerfect 6.x.

4. Spell Checking. Configure your custom dictionary either by importing a list of words into it or by running a number of your standard documents through the spell-checker and adding words to the custom dictionary. "Custom.dic" is an ASCII (plain text) file and can be edited in Notepad or any other text editor. In Windows 2000, you'll find this file under Documents and Settings-Username-Application Data-Microsoft-Proof.
The grammar-checking function can be annoying, especially for legal writing. Turn it off at Tools-Options-Spelling & Grammar.

5. Formatting Symbols. Microsoft stores format information for a given paragraph in the symbol at the end of the paragraph. Deleting a paragraph symbol (especially the last one in a document) can lead to unexpected results. You may want to turn off paragraph symbols at Tools-Options-View-Paragraph Marks.

6. Single Copy. By default, Word opens a separate copy of itself for each document you create. If you don't have lots of memory, this scenario can create problems. You can change this setting so that only one copy of Word will run: Go to Tools-Options-View- Uncheck Windows in Taskbar. If you have multiple documents open, select Windows in the menu bar to see the various documents.

7. Page Setup. Word defaults to left and right margins of 1.25 inch. Most law firms use 1-inch margins. Go to File-Page Layout and change the margins as needed. Then click on the Default button at the lower left of the Page Layout window to set those margins as your default for all future documents.

8. Track Changes. Unless you really need it, turn off Track Changes. Many formatting problems occur with Track Changes in Word 2002. Not the least is that it makes the word count function unpredictable, which can have serious consequences when submitting briefs to court. To access the settings, select Tools-Track Changes.
Make sure you set Tools-Options-Security to warn you before sending a file with tracked changes. Although this can be annoying (you get the warning every time you print), it can also save you grief. Otherwise, if you send your document to opposing counsel, they may be able to see changes you made when you were editing different versions of the document. However, this setting still does not eliminate all the "metadata." Consider a utility such as Payne Consulting's Metadata Assistant (www.payneconsulting.com) if you routinely exchange documents with other firms.
A related security issue: Word 2002 offers the option to send documents to Microsoft in the event of a crash. Because sending a document to Microsoft could be construed as breaching attorney-client privilege (slim possibility, but better safe than sorry), I recommend against doing so as a matter of policy.

9. AutoText and AutoCorrect. Unfortunately, many lawyers do not use AutoText and AutoCorrect, two outstanding features. Review the Tools-AutoCorrect functions and you'll begin to see what you can do. In the AutoFormat As You Type section, consider turning off the options "Apply Built-in Heading Styles" and "Replace Internet ... Paths with Hyperlinks," as well as "Set ... Indent with Tabs."

10. Button Bars. Lastly, Word ships with what I call "demo button bars"-buttons that contain neat features if you are giving a demo, but which you will likely never use in actual document production, especially in a legal environment. Everyone has personal favorites. I recommend creating buttons for frequently used functions that are more than one level deep in the menu structure.
Note that Word 2002 lets you place two styles on the same line (part of Microsoft's effort to catch up with functionality WordPerfect has had for years). However, this option does not appear on any menu and must be added to the button bar to function. From the View menu, choose Toolbars-Customize. Select the Commands tab and All Commands from the Category list. Select InsertStyle Separator and drag it to the standard toolbar.

Learn to Do More
These 10 steps only scratch the surface. There are many other ways to customize Word 2002 to match your work style and boost your productivity. For further tips, read Payne Consulting's Word 2002 for Law Firms (available at major bookstores). And check out Woody Leonhard's newsletter at www.woodyswatch.com-it provides advice and features up-to-date information on all subjects Microsoft.


John Heckman ( heckman@heckmanco.com) has assisted law firms with technology issues for 20 years as the principal of Heckman Consulting, a systems integration firm specializing in practice management and document management.

This article originated in TechnoLawyer, a popular legal technology and practice management resource that consists of a network of free, critically acclaimed e-mail newsletters, and a searchable Web-based repository of all TechnoLawyer content since January 1997. To join, search or learn more about TechnoLawyer, visit www.technolawyer.com.