Microsoft Word – an important office workhorse

“Oh my gosh, I wish I’d known that two weeks ago!”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I could have retired from training Microsoft Word a long time ago.

Partly, it breaks my heart hearing people say that, because I can relate to the frustration they must have experienced – stuck in the office late at night, manually fixing up the formatting in a long document when they should be proof-reading the content.

But hearing that also underscores the importance of Microsoft Word in most offices in New Zealand – not just law firms – and how crucial it is to know how to use it.

Part of my role at Chapman Tripp is to train our new staff on our office IT systems, and I never have to tell them what Microsoft Word is. In the last ten years, Google has made moves into the Office Apps space with Google Docs used by many students (school and tertiary). But in the corporate world, Microsoft Word has enjoyed enormous market share for years.

This month, TechnoLawyer (a US Legal Technology resource) published statistics indicating that 86% of its members use Microsoft Word. My experience is that, after Microsoft Outlook, Word is the second-most used PC application in New Zealand law firms.

So, for such a widely-used tool in the legal sector, there is value in making sure your team knows how to use it properly. Over the years, Microsoft has released different versions of Word but, fundamentally, the product still does the same thing as it always did – produces pieces of A4 with your drafting on them.

Legal documents tend to be long. Late at night, a tired solicitor can fix up a three-page document with a bunch of manual fixes. But when you are talking about a 200-plus page agreement, fixing up the numbering manually will not only take a huge amount of time but it also starts to affect the quality of your product. Those are the hours you should be proof-reading the content, not fixing up the format.

Where can it go wrong?

When lawyers have spent time carefully drafting their documents – and when it is time to send them to clients or other firms – they want the finished product to look as professional as possible. The following mistakes can reflect on the overall quality of your legal product:

  • incorrectly applied paragraph numbering;
  • headings sitting abandoned at the bottom of page 10, while the relevant passage sits, decapitated, at the top of page 11;
  • page numbering strangely re-starting mid-document;
  • inconsistent indenting; and
  • different fonts appearing in the document, especially where text has been copied and pasted from other sources.

Some quick and easy tips

When I deliver training on Microsoft Word, I encourage people to understand the concepts behind it – styles, headers and footers, cross-referencing – so they can understand which tool to use and what it will deliver.

In addition, I always throw in some quick shortcuts which is usually when the “I wish I knew that last week” moments happen, for example:

  • To move a row in a table up or down: Highlight the row you wish to move, and with your left hand, hold down the “Ctrl” and “Alt” keys on the keyboard. Now use the “up” or “down” cursor keys to move the row. This allows you to watch the row moving up or down your table until it’s in exactly the right place.
  • Shortcut to apply formatting: Highlight a paragraph or piece of text that has the correct formatting, then press and hold “Ctrl+Shift+C” to store that formatting. Carry on typing or doing other tasks. When you are ready to apply that formatting, highlight the text you wish to format and press “Ctrl+Shift+V”.

As well as being able to turn out a quality product, training on Microsoft Word will also equip your staff to work efficiently and with confidence on your documents, to meet deadlines and to spend their time proof-reading for accuracy, not fiddling with numbering.

For readers feeling the need for a bit of upskilling on Microsoft Word, ADLS has an upcoming webinar entitled “More Word for Lawyers” taking place on Wednesday 14 June 2017. Picking up from our previous and very successful webinar, “Word for Lawyers”, presenter Carlene O’Meagher (Senior Business Analyst, Chapman Tripp) will look at other functions and facilities offered by Word 2010 which will be of use to lawyers in their practices on a daily basis. For more information and to register, click here.

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