Even though I’ve been a defender of Microsoft Word for years (even when faced by diehard WordPerfect users), even I have to admit that some of its features simply make no sense. Unfortunately, a lot of those user-hostile features are the ones most likely to be used in a law office. Here are my nominations for the most hair-pullingly frustrating, user-hostile Microsoft Word features.
If you ever have to do appellate briefs that require a Table of Authorities, you have my sincerest sympathies. Like many of the features on this list, this isn’t something I can show somebody one time and expect that they’ll pick up the ball and run with it. Inevitably, no matter how carefully someone marks their citations, something goes wonky with the Table of Authorities: the indentations aren’t right, there’s not enough space between the entries, the font doesn’t match the text of brief … the list of what can go wrong is nearly endless. If it’s a simple enough brief, the temptation is to do it all manually. I can’t say that I blame anyone for that.
If you do TOAs a lot, you can buy software that can step between you and Word and provide an easier experience. But it’ll cost you.
Bullets & Numbering
Frankly, I can understand why a Table of Authorities is a difficult thing to automate. There are a lot of pieces that have to fit together just so. But what is so freaking complicated about having auto-numbered paragraphs that are indented (or not) correctly? The whole thing becomes a tangled mess of field codes, Styles, and paragraph formatting, and if your numbering ever gets off-track, heaven help you.
Yes, there’s help to be had here too, but again, it’ll cost you. At the very least, you’ll want to turn off the feature that lets Word AutoFormat anything that looks like it ought to be a bullet or paragraph number. Then, you can always do things manually until you choose not to.
I’d be hard-pressed to name a single legal practice specialty that doesn’t need this feature. And truthfully, just turning it on and letting it mark the text as you type is actually quite simple. It’s trying to deal with the text later that’s complicated. Do you want to print the changes, or do you want to print the document as if all the changes have been accepted, or do you want to print the document as it was originally? Well, you can do all that, but first you have to figure out the difference between Final Show Markup, Final, Original Show Markup, and Original. It’s not nearly as intuitive as it sounds. And if you got balloons but you don’t want balloons, or vice versa, good luck finding the place where you suppress or add them.
You might be better off simply using the Compare feature to look at the differences between two distinct drafts.
From client intake to going to trial (or whatever your practice’s endgame is), forms could be a huge timesaver. And although Microsoft Word has a pretty impressive database of templates, they’re really not geared to law offices.
If there were world enough and time, you could assemble your own set of forms. But between hiding the Bookmark and Cross-Reference feature on the Insert tab and squirreling away the Controls feature on the hidden by default Developer tab, it’s almost as if Microsoft is telling you, “don’t bother.” Even Adobe does a better job of this sort of thing that Microsoft.
If you’re a Microsoft Word user determined to streamline your document production process with forms, you can get help here, too, and a lot cheaper than you think. You can check out a simplified version of TheFormTool for free, or you can pay a small fee for a premium version that does really cool things like convert $123.45 to its text equivalent of “One Hundred Twenty-Three and 45/100ths Dollars” plus calculate amounts and dates. With that and a little elbow grease, you can save yourself the frustration of learning the Cross References feature and leave the Developer tab for the propeller heads.
Want to paste text from one document to another? Sure, you can do that, and the safe bet is you’ll somehow screw up the formatting in your destination document in the process. That’s because Word tries to figure out whether you wanted to paste just the text or some (or all) of the formatting.
As if that’s not complicated enough, there are settings embedded deep in the Options area that control the defaults for pasting text within the same document, between Word documents, and from another program into Word. After all, getting text from one place to another isn’t all that simple (but it should be).
Of course, these are just my pet peeves. Every Word user has their own “it’s got a be simpler than this” feature. What’s yours?