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Law Technology Today

2023

LTRC Roundtable Discussion: Microsoft 365

Julie Bays, Jim Calloway, Sarah E Gold, Allison C Johs, Alan Klevan, Thomas L Mighell, Alexander Paykin, Catherine Sanders Reach, David Brian Seserman, and Reid F Trautz

Summary 

  • Learn best tips and practices for using Microsft 365 from our team of legal technology experts. 
  • Get up to date on all the best ways to apply all of Microsoft 365 in your professional life and make business that much easier. 
  • Learn hidden tips and tricks within Excel, Powerpoint, and Outlook that our experts have tested and highly reccommend. 
LTRC Roundtable Discussion: Microsoft 365
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Our Panelist: 

Julie Bays (JB), Jim Calloway (JC), Sarah Gold (SG), Allison Johs (AJ), Alan Klevan (AK), Tom Mighell (TM), Alexander Paykin (AP), Catherine Sanders Reach (CSR), David Seserman (DS), Reid Trautz (RT). 

What is your best tip for using Microsoft Word?

JB: My top tip for utilizing Microsoft Word is taking full advantage of the Editor. I've found this tool can drastically enhance my writing quality and productivity. By letting Editor analyze my document drafts, it highlights issues from grammatical mistakes to awkward phrasing. I simply couldn't proofread and refine at the same pace without this automation.  I also must mention using the online version through Microsoft Edge. This gives you access to the Bing AI chat, which I've found extremely valuable for improving my documents. Whenever I need quick facts or extra information to strengthen my writing, I simply ask the AI chatbot. It provides helpful responses on the spot without me having to leave Word. This allows me to get complementary information quickly. The Bing AI chat gives you the website sources if more information is needed. 

JC: Customize your Quick Access Toolbar in Word. By default, the QAT is at the top of your screen in Word, right above the Ribbon. Right clicking on the QAT and selecting Show Quick Access Toolbar below the Ribbon allows you a better view of the QAT. Next, add tasks you do frequently to the QAT. Email should be the first to be added. When you complete a Word document you wish to email, you can click on the email icon in QAT and a blank email with the document attached will appear. I use this daily. Other shortcuts I have added to the QAT include Read Aloud, Convert Case, Insert Endnote, Quick Print and more. Online articles with information on modifying the QAT are easy to find. Bonus: The QAT is also available in Outlook, Excel and PowerPoint.

AJ: My favorite Word tip is to use Styles, and especially Styles in combination with Word’s navigation pane, for long documents. By using Styles to define my headings and subheadings, it’s easy for me to see the outline of my document in the navigation pane, and to move whole sections around in a document just by dragging and dropping them in the navigation pane.

And did you know that you can create fillable forms in Word? Use the Developer tab to insert checkboxes, dropdown lists, or text areas that can be completed right in Word.

AK: As most of my practice is based around Adobe Acrobat, I try to convert almost everything I do into that platform.  On the Word toolbar, there is an “Acrobat” function.  Once I save the Word document, I click the “Acrobat” button and save the document to an Acrobat file.  For correspondence, pleadings, and responses, once saved to Acrobat from Word, I just sign the document digitally, protect it/encrypt it, and send it off.

TM: The Word spell check is now Editor, and it's powerful. You can specify whether you want it to check for Formal, Professional or Casual writing, and you can be granular in the specific aspects of your writing it checks. Some of the options are Clarity, Conciseness, Vocabulary, Punctation Conventions, Inclusiveness, and even Sensitive Geopolitical References. To customize your Editor, just go to File > Options > Proofing, and then click Settings under When correcting spelling and grammar in Word.

AP: Take the time to configure your Normal.dotx template with the Styles that you normally like, so that your default fonts, spacing, paragraphs, numbered lists and basically all formatting is saved and easy to apply to new documents, for a consistent and professional look.

CSR: In the Microsoft 365 subscription of Word, both through the browser and in the software, you can use the Dictate tool to write your document. If you need help with the commands for formatting, punctuation, and editing open the Help panel to search or navigate for a command. Below Dictate (Home tab – Voice group) is Transcribe. Upload audio from a recorded Zoom call, voice notes and recordings from your phone, or any audio file in .wav, .mp4, .m4a, or .mp3. The transcribe tool identifies speakers, provides great editing tools, and more. You can also use Transcribe to record if learning all the Dictation commands slows your train of thought. Be aware you get 300 transcription upload minutes per month.

RT: Ctrl+H is the shortcut for Find and Replace. Microsoft has moved that important feature around over the years, so it can be hard to find, but I just have to remember the shortcut key.

Which Microsoft Outlook tip do you think many lawyers don’t know about?

JB: Microsoft Outlook users can use Meeting Insights. When you join a meeting that someone else scheduled, click on Meeting Insights above, and it shows you relevant documents and emails. This helps you prepare for meetings by giving you access to materials you might have missed. It also helps you find information from past meetings, like meeting notes and other related documents. I recently needed this feature during a meeting reviewing a contract. I forgot to have a copy of the contract in front of me for the discussion. Luckily, I was able to bring it up quickly with this calendar feature. 

JC: Delay Delivery is under the Options tab when drafting an email. I don’t know if lawyers don’t know about it or don’t use it. Everything we do as lawyers seems to be urgent. But not all emails are. We have a lot of stress in the legal profession. If you are working on the weekend, delaying delivery until first thing Monday morning is a kindness to your associates who might think they had to respond or work over the weekend. It allows you to respect colleagues’ vacation time by delaying and until they return has the benefit of your email being in the top of their inbox when they return.

SG: Use Quick Parts!  It’s an easy way to keep a list of links, phrases, and reoccurring answers at hand so you don’t have to retype it out each time. 

AJ: I use Outlook’s Conditional Formatting in both mail and calendar. In Mail, I set up conditional formatting to color code emails from specific senders. That lets those emails stand out in my inbox, making it much less likely that I will miss an important client email.

In Calendar, I color-code appointments and events so I can see at a glance what kind of work I’ll be doing in a given day, week, or month. For example, I have client appointments, potential client meetings, presentations, or speeches, and writing projects all in a different color.

To find Conditional Formatting, go to the View tab, then click on View Options and Conditional Formatting and choose your options, like the way you set up Rules in Outlook.

And I love using Quick Parts in Outlook to save time for all those things I must include frequently, whether they are instructions or answers to questions I get from clients frequently.

AK: Again, I love the fact that you can save Outlook messages to Acrobat with a few mouse clicks.  Using the “Acrobat” button, you can save either an individual message or a group of Outlook messages.  If there are attachments in these messages, they will remain dynamic in your file.

TM: Do you color code your calendar? You can easily apply different colors to your calendar events - it's helpful for those of you who are into the "time blocking" method of productivity, and it also lets you keep track of what you're doing for a particular client or matter. First, go to Tags > Categorize > All Categories, create the categories you want to use, and associate colors with each category. When you create an event in your calendar, just go back to Categorize and select the correct category.

CSR: In the Microsoft 365 subscription of Outlook, through the browser and in the software, there is an admin enabled add-on called My Templates. If you don’t see it look in All Apps. You can create a clause library to drop in phrases and entire messages in new emails and responses. Unlike QuickParts, the Templates are available to use in Outlook for Windows and Outlook through the browser. In fact, the new Outlook for Windows (currently in preview) doesn’t include QuickParts so consider migrating now.

DS: Syles is the power of MS Word and most attorneys do not know how to customize it or understand it (me included).

RT: Using Office Dictation to write each email message. Look for the microphone icon in the ribbon of each new email. Click it on, then use your voice, not your fingers, to quickly put your thoughts into that email. The quality of the recognition really helps speed my “writing” including this answer.

What is your best advice for using Microsoft Excel?

SG: Remember you can cut and paste formulas from one spreadsheet to another, so if you develop something good, you can use it again without having to recreate the wheel each time.

AK: Without sounding like a broken record, you can save Excel spreadsheets as an Acrobat program as well.

TM: Instead of a single tip, I'll suggest the place where I find all my best tips for Excel: Miss Excel. She offers courses on how to better use Excel, but I get a lot of great tips from her social channels - she posts regularly on LinkedIn, Instagram and TikTok. Short little tips that are easy to consume and instantly make you a better Excel user.

AP: Learn to use formulas.  Excel is not a glorified table; it is an extremely advanced tool that can take so much manual labor out of your day.  Start by pressing the fx button to the left of the formula bar and look at the various functions available.  Research from there.

CSR: If you have created or received an Excel Workbook that contains a lot of data that you need to manipulate by sorting and filtering, select the data in the rows and columns in a worksheet and then click in the Home Tab – Styles Group – Format As Table. Then choose the table style and make sure to check the box if your data has headers. Then you can easily filter, sort, and search by header.

RT: Excel is my Achilles heel when it comes to Microsoft 365. If you know your skills are subpar, do yourself a favor and review some short online training videos so you're not hindering your use (and your firm’s use) of Excel capabilities.

How do you get the most out of Microsoft Teams?

JC: Translate is one feature of Teams that is powerful and simple. Translating a message in a from another language is one click away. Just hover over the message you need to translate, click on the three dot ellipses (...) and select Translate. Teams also includes video call translation. One can add captions in several languages by using the Translate To menu. Participating attendees can turn on captions by clicking Subtitles On available on the right side of their screen. This rough translation will likely have errors. But the price (and convenience) is right.

TM: The #1 way to get the most out of Teams is to make sure you are using it externally in addition to with your internal team. Collaborating with clients, colleagues or others is easy in Teams, so don't just limit yourself to internal collaboration. But many of you may already be doing that, so here's another tip: make use of the + sign to add extra tabs to a Teams channel. By default, you get Posts (for chat) and Files, but you can add all sorts of other tools such as tabs for easy access. My teams typically add tabs for the team OneNote notebook, as well as a link to the project plan, so we can get to that information without searching for it. You can add third-party apps as well if they're supported.

AP: Download the software onto your computer (do not use the web-based version).  Set up your account and configure your camera and microphone.  Test out your microphone in a meeting with a friend or co-worker.  Experiment with different types of microphones if you need to, until you find one that sounds clean and clear.  In the end, that is the most important part of being heard.

CSR: Go beyond using Teams as a video conferencing and chat tool and explore Teams workspaces. You can create working groups with threaded discussions for specific people in the firm, whether that is the strategic planning committee, managing partners, or even creating workspaces to work on client/matters. Each workspace creates a chat just for those invited, a SharePoint document library and a shared OneNote notebook. You can integrate other Microsoft applications like Tasks by Planner, or third-party tools like Clio.  

DS: In the Teams discussion, perhaps a compare and contrast of Teams v. SLACK (or at least how to make Teams work like SLACK) might be helpful

What is your favorite PowerPoint tip?

JB: One of my favorites is using the recording feature. You can use the recording feature to re-record slides that may have been messed up. To record a presentation, select “Recording” from the top navigation bar and choose from “Record Slide Show” or “Screen Recording” options. You can also record from a specific slide by selecting “Record” near the upper right corner of the window. PowerPoint will record the time you spend on each slide, any animation or triggers, and your use of pen, highlighter, or eraser. You can toggle on or off the microphone, camera, and camera preview. 

JC: We are past the point where audiences will pay attention to a PowerPoint presentation that is mostly bullet points and mind-numbing text. The Design feature suggests more pleasing designs for slides, and you should pay attention to its suggestions. But now PowerPoint has AI assistance. Click on Home, then Designer and select a slide. The Designer AI tool will use its machine learning features to match the text and graphics in your slide with an appropriate background, images, or layout option. Some of these are useless. But others are quite good and creative.

SG: Embed your video in the presentation as opposed to calling out to a separate webpage.  That way if your internet bugs out your slide won’t die a horrible death.

AJ: One of my favorite Microsoft 365 PowerPoint tools is the slide designer. Click on Home and then Design and you’ll see the Design Ideas button. I have found it saves me time and often my presentations look much more polished using the slide designer.

I also think the Slide Master view is extremely helpful if you want to change fonts and styles across your presentation, add (or remove) footers, etc.

TM: If you are using PowerPoint in Teams, absolutely use the Present in Teams option - it should be available as a button in the upper right of your PowerPoint screen. Called PowerPoint Live, this view allows you to see your slides, notes, and audience all on the same screen. You can also access PowerPoint Live from the Share button within a Teams meeting.

AP: Use 2 monitors, with one pointed at you, so you can have a presenter's screen with your notes and next slide preview.

CSR: If you want more control over your slides and to be able to hop around your slide deck without having to memorize slide numbers, try adding Sections. You can create Sections most easily in the Slide sorter view by right clicking and naming the Section. Then, you can order and organize very large slide decks with ease. You can also leverage the Zoom links feature. Go to the Insert tab and in the Links, group click on Zoom and choose Section Zoom. You can create a slide that lets you easily move from each Section in any order you choose. Want to learn more PowerPoint tips? Watch the LP Division Tech Series CLE “What’s New in PowerPoint”, free for ABA members.

RT: Using the new Design feature to make my slides more visually interesting. Engage it whenever you are creating a new slide deck.

What is your best tip for any of the other Microsoft 365 products?

­ JB: If you haven’t tried Bookings lately, I suggest you try it out. The online version of Outlook makes it easy to set up. When someone needs an appointment, you just send them the link and post it to your website.  

JC: Templates. Use them in both Word and Outlook. You should have Outlook and Word templates that mimic your law firm letterhead and, if pleadings in your jurisdiction have special rules on fonts or line spacing, build a template that incorporates those and has a blank case caption at the top of the page.

SG: Skype is a sleeper app.  I’ve been using it as my phone system for over 10 years, and it’s the cheapest way to have a phone system that resides not only on your computer, but also your cell phone. You can also text and video call clients with it, so it can be quite useful.  I only pay about $60 a year to maintain a number, and unlimited calls to the US and Canada.

TM: Do you know about your M365 Dashboard? Just visit your portal office in Microsoft , which shows you everything going on with your M365 documents. At the top is a Recommended section, which offers choices of documents you might need for an upcoming meeting, a recording from a recently concluded meeting, etc. The Quick Access area gives you a list of your most recent documents - you can sort them by when they were opened, who shared them with you, or Favorites. Click on My Content in the left toolbar and get access to all the documents you have worked on, no matter where in your M365 environment they happen to be stored.

AP: Configure your OneDrive to store and index all your documents in the cloud, so that you can access them from anywhere and so that OneDrive can let you search through all the content within all the files, allowing you to search for keyword and citations within all of your old briefs at once.

CSR: Your Microsoft 365 subscription has far more to it than the Microsoft Office suite. Go to Office.com and log in with your business account to see all the tools you can use. For instance, your Business subscription (Standard or Premium) includes Stream, which allows you to record and host videos. You can create an internal tutorial library for knowledge sharing and instruction or share videos with clients with managed access (invite specific people to view or edit, block download, etc.). Like a private YouTube!

RT: MS365 comes loaded with other functionality, such as Bookings, Forms, To Do, among many others. Explore these capabilities by clicking the Apps icon in the left navigation column. These apps are integrated with Outlook, Word, etc., and can often replace separate software you may be paying for to keep your practice and firm organized.

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