6 Essential Microsoft Office Skills for Coping Without an Assistant

Sooner or later, it’s going to happen. Whether you’re in the office alone on a Saturday or you’re trying to cope with a weekday task while your law partner(s) are monopolizing your assistant’s time, you’re going to find yourself having to get that document finished yourself.

So, before it’s crunch time, you need to make sure your Microsoft Office skills are at least sharp enough to put together a basic pleading or letter or get something e-filed. How would you fare if you were tested on the following?


I’m sorry, but hunt-and-peck is just not acceptable in the digital age, no matter what application you’re using. Spend a little time now and again at 10-fast-fingers.com brushing up on your ASDF-JKL; finger placement. If nothing else, it’s an interesting diversion in the middle of the workday.

Want to draft even faster? Invest a bit on dictation software and save your fingers for editing later.


Much as I’d love it if more lawyers made and used their own Microsoft Word templates, Quick Parts, and other text creation shortcuts, I’m a realist. There’s always going to be a lot of copying-and-pasting from documents in other client files. After all, it’s just so easy to pull up that old contract or brief and copy stuff out of it for your latest client.

It’s also easy for that to backfire. Not only could you inadvertently leave in some compromising metadata (or, if you’re a really sloppy editor, your old client’s information), you could drop in some formatting codes that will make later editing a nightmare.

Move beyond CTRL-C/CTRL-V and learn how (and when) to use features like Paste Special, then tweak your cut/copy/paste settings in Word Options to make intelligent pasting a bit more automatic. And if all else fails, learn to …

Diagnosing and Fixing Formatting

Even with the most careful copying and pasting, your formatting could go all wonky. Microsoft Word is remarkably unresponsive to fist-pounding. Better to arm yourself with some diagnostic tools and formatting strategies to get yourself out of a tight spot.

Scanning and Saving

As idiot-proof as desktop scanners are becoming these days, not knowing how to PDF a document (and yes, PDF has unfortunately become a verb) is a real liability. If you don’t already have a scanner, or the one you have is too complicated, take a look at our recent scanner reviews and get up to speed on it before it’s crunch time. And if you efile with an electronic signature, knowing how to save a Word document directly to PDF saves on electronic file space and time when you’re uploading to court websites.

Scrubbing Metadata Out

Sending documents out by e-mail? Be sure they don’t contain any compromising information (particularly if you’ve been doing a lot of copying and pasting out of old documents). Although you can do remove metadata directly in Microsoft Word, it may be better (and safer) to find an e-mail plug-in to make sure it’s done automatically before any e-mail with an attachment goes out.

Sync Your Info Between Devices

If you frequently take work home or on the road with you, the last thing you need is to be missing critical information. Learn now how to offload information from your main PC or LAN onto your other devices, like your iPad or other tablet or a laptop computer. Users of file systems like Worldox, for example, can “check out” documents to edit on non-networked devices, then check them back into the main file system when they’re done.

Synchronizing Microsoft Outlook between computers is somewhat trickier, so investigate tools like SynchPst before that next out-of-town trip.

What About You?

What other Microsoft Office skills have you had to acquire to survive sans assistant?



  1. Avatar Stephen says:

    Anyone know an email plug-in for Outlook 2010 that scrubs metadata before sending the attachments?

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