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5 Microsoft Word Tips to Make Lawyers' Lives Easier

By Mark Wilson, Esq. | Last updated on

Like it or not, Microsoft Word is one of the two de facto word processing applications lawyers have to make peace with. (The other, WordPerfect, continues to enjoy widespread use, in spite of itself.)

Many practitioners, though, don't unlock the true power of Microsoft Word. Instead, they treat it as more or less a text-based word processor, which it is, but it's also desktop publishing software. Take a look at these tips to see if you're using Word to its full potential.

1. Use Styles

Do you get mad when it seems like Word is changing your fonts around all the time? That's a feature, not a bug. Word's formatting is based on "styles," and you can create an essentially infinite set of styles that can be different for every paragraph. Rather than manually make your headings bold and indented and all that, instead create a style for headings and apply it to the text you want to format. Boom. Instant heading. Styles are the single most important thing you should learn how to use in Word.

2. Use a Table of Contents

Why are styles important? They set the foundation for some of Word's other features, like its ability to generate a Table of Contents automatically. The different headings in the TOC come directly from the different headings in your brief, and it will format those depending on the style of each heading -- and the TOC will automatically list the pages, and even update the table when the pages change.

3. Templates!

For boilerplate forms, or even frequently used briefs, consider creating a template. A template is the basis for a new document. The default Word template is the "blank" template, with no text on it and basic formatting, but you can save a template with your custom styles and even some pre-populated text (like, say, a caption page) to save time. You also don't have to worry about saving over an existing document, as templates are saved in a different way from normal documents.

4. Bro, Do You Even Track Changes?

When editing someone else's document, why print it out and mark it up when you can do that on screen? Word's powerful "Track Changes" function allows you to mark up a document while still preserving the original text and formatting. Once the author gets the edited document back, she can accept or reject individuals changes or just throw caution to the wind and accept them all. It's a win-win for everyone (just make sure you've turned it off once you're done).

5. Use a Table of Authorities

Just as Word can automate your Table of Contents, it can also automate your Table of Authorities. No need to go scrounging for your case citations and manually enter them and their page numbers into a table (and god help you if you do any editing after that). It takes a little bit of learning, but once you get the hang of Word's Table of Authorities feature, noting citations will be a breeze. And, like the Table of Contents, the TOA can auto-update. What a concept!

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