When it comes to document assembly, the one thing that beats the old cut-and-paste routine is having your own library of Microsoft Word Building Blocks ready to pop into a document in progress. But building that library doesn’t happen overnight. Here are some suggestions for small items to get you started.
Wouldn’t it be great if every time you started a new letter, it already had today’s date, your signature block, and even that pesky second page header with the date and page number already embedded? This is a great example of the power of Microsoft Word templates. The next time you have a letter with all of these elements already in it, copy it into a new document window and strip out all of the recipient specific information. For bonus points, use the SaveDate field for the dates at the top of the letter and in the second page header.
Then, instead of saving the document as a regular Word document, save it as a template by using File | Save As and choosing Word Template as the document type. Be sure to save it in the correct location on your hard drive so it will show up in the My Templates section the next time you click File | New.
Generic and Case-Specific Pleading Templates
This same technique also works with pleadings. To start, take a fairly simple recent pleading and strip out the case specific information. Save that as a template, and then use that template to in turn create case specific templates for each of your active cases. The advantage of having case specific pleading templates is that, if you’re diligent about keeping them updated with any new party and service information, you (and anyone who works with you on the case) has a reliable starting point for drafting a new pleading. The common practice of simply picking up the last pleading you filed and using that as a starting point for drafting a new document can (and in my experience, often does) result in filing something with an out of date case style and/or failing to serve a new party.
Signature Blocks, Certificates of Service, Etc.
Even simpler than setting up templates is copying oft-used snippets of text like signature blocks, certificates of service (in whatever form your courts require), notary acknowledgments, etc. It’s pretty much the same technique: take a recent example, strip out anything client specific, then select the block of text with your mouse and, on the Insert tab, click on Quick Parts and select Save Selection to Quick Parts Gallery.
Even fans of Quick Parts don’t always realize that you can save these elements to specific Galleries like Headers, Footers, etc. You can even combine templates and Quick Parts so that particular Quick Parts are only available in specific templates, which is a good way to keep your Quick Parts from becoming an overwhelming list.
Most Microsoft Word users already know about embedding dates in the documents and using features like paragraph numbering. But the power of fields in Microsoft Word extends far beyond that. What if, for example, you could save Building Blocks that contained calculated elements like these:
For example, if you have a fairly standard set of affirmative defenses that you use in many of your cases, you can save those to your Quick Parts and embed self-calculating numbering. Then, when you pop that Quick Part into your document, you can take out whatever defenses don’t fit that particular pleading and/or create new ones, and the numbering will take care of itself.
Like that trick? Stay tuned, because I’ll be expanding on that more advanced Quick Parts strategy in a future post.
Document Assembly on a Small Scale
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not arguing that Microsoft Word can fully take the place of document assembly software. But if you’re not ready to make that investment and take that step, you can still reap the benefits of some of those functions with Microsoft Word’s Building Blocks. With a little time and forethought, they can make assembling documents with common elements faster and easier.