As useful as it is to learn new techniques for increasing your productivity like using tasks and categories to organize your matter workload or make delegating easier, sometimes it’s the little things — features you might not even think to look for — that can make otherwise mundane tasks much easier.((Unless otherwise noted below, all instructions and screenshots are for Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows.))

Implement these three quick features to make using Outlook more effective.

Built-in Date Calculator

Most law practices, especially litigation, have numerous deadlines. And if you are using Microsoft Outlook’s task or calendar features, you may not be aware that the date fields can actually calculate a deadline for you.

For example, say you have just gotten some discovery in today, so you want to create a task reminding you to serve responses within the appropriate time (we will use thirty days from today as an example). Here are the steps:

  1. Start a task window.
  2. Go to the date field.
  3. Type “today+30 days” in the field.

Once you do that and hit the enter key, the date calculates automatically.

You are not limited to using days as a calculation unit. You can also say “two weeks,” “one month,” etc.1

Redirecting Email Replies

Ever sent out an email to a group but dreaded the avalanche of responses you get? Not many people realize that it’s possible to change the reply-to address in Outlook e-mail.

In this example, let’s assume you are sending out an e-mail to everyone in the Young Lawyers section of your local bar association. However, you want your assistant to receive and tally the responses. On the Options tab of the New Message window, click the Direct Replies To button:

On the Options tab of the New Message window, click the Direct Replies To button.

In the middle of the Properties dialog box, under Delivery options, click the Select Names button.

At this point, you will be taken to your Address Book and can substitute your assistant’s name for your own in the “To…” field.

Click OK to save the change, then click OK again to exit the Properties dialog.

Organizing Conversations

By default, Microsoft Outlook organizes your email inbox chronologically, showing the most recent email at the top of the list. In some ways, that is useful. But if you have been involved in a long, drawn-out e-mail conversation including several correspondents, you have probably wished for a way to view your inbox as conversational threads.

The good news is Microsoft Outlook 2010 has introduced a Conversation view that will group e-mails together based on the Subject line. The Conversation view is available on the View tab.

Message threading can be tweaked to your preference with the Conversation settings drop-down, and conversations themselves can be expanded or collapsed by clicking the arrow to the left of the conversation header.

You can, of course, toggle this setting on and off as necessary.

Little Things Can Add Up

Accumulating a bag of minor tricks like these can make Microsoft Outlook much more user-friendly. While these are not “mission critical” features, they are the sort of “nice-to-haves” users would not even think to look for but still appreciate knowing about.

  1. This does not take into account holidays or special calculation rules in various courts. Still, this is a great trick for at least ensuring you get a heads-up before a deadline. 

13 responses to “Three Microsoft Outlook Quick Tricks”

  1. Thanks. After using both Outlook and Gmail, I am a fan of Gmail.

    • Sam Glover says:

      So am I, but the nice thing about Gmail is that you can do both. If you use Google Apps Sync for Outlook, lawyers who want to use Outlook can use Outlook, and lawyerist who want to use Gmail can use Gmail, but the backend mail handling will be handled by Google no matter what. It’s a great way to add efficiency to your email provision while satisfying both attorneys who like Outlook and those who don’t.

      I prefer Gmail, but there’s no good way to get email out of it in batches, so I use Apps Sync to back up my email to Outlook and so that I can gather case-related emails when I close a file.

  2. Kat Gordon says:

    Another tip is if you tend to send routine emails is to create an email signature that includes the content of the email and just insert the signature into the email rather than typing the content of the message. I tend to do this for sending contracts for approval, quarterly material availability, etc.

    • J. C. says:

      You can alternatively use the “quick parts” feature which is also present in Word to do this. Insert it by selecting the defined quick part or autotext

      • legalofficeguru says:

        Even quicker (and more fun, I think) – use Quick Steps. You can configure one to pre-address the email, put in a subject line (not possible with Quick Parts), and insert the message text.

  3. Hey Deborah: Like these cool tricks. What about intake consults with possible clients. Is there some method to take notes of this initial phone conversation of a prospect in Outlook or say Evernote? It is hard to stay organized with all the paper notes

    • legalofficeguru says:

      Sorry I didn’t see this (I can never get Disqus to load in Firefox). Yes, you can add notes to an Outlook contact. You can also associate Outlook items (Journal entries, appointments, etc.) with that contact and then review them in the Activities view (on the Contact tab of an individual contact in the Show section of the Ribbon). It’s not a full CMS, but it will hold a lot of that kind of information.

      • Thanks for that information. What I am referring to is phone consults with prospects that may or may not call me back. I get a lot of people call me to pick my brain and then never call me. Others do call back. But I do not want to create a contact file for each of these calls. So is there a way that I can record/store these consults quickly and on the fly and then refer back to them later. I hope this is clear and your thoughts on a good method to do this would be greatly appreciated and welcomed.

  4. Dakota Solberg says:

    The built-in date calculator is amazing! Thanks so much.

  5. legalofficeguru says:

    First of all, the answers depend on what PDF program you’re using and what method you used to “print to PDF”. If you have a tab in Outlook for Acrobat (or whatever PDF program you’re using), did you use that to archive the emails? Or did you use the PDF print driver to create the PDF? It sounds like you used the former method, in which case there should be a Settings button on that tab in Outlook that might turn off default deletions in the future.
    As to your second question, did any of the emails end up in the Deleted Items folder? If so, is Outlook set up to purge Deleted Items every time she logs off? If both those answers are “yes”, you might be out of luck. (Look for Options on the File tab, then click Advanced and see if the checkbox under “Outlook start and exit” labeled “Empty Deleted Items folders when exiting Outlook” is checked.) If, however, the Deleted Items folder isn’t automatically purged, you might be able to restore from there. Or, go to the Folder tab and click “Recover Deleted Items” to see if any of the missing emails are there.
    Sorry I could not offer more specific help. Good luck!

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