Microsoft Word is possibly the most used tool in a lawyer’s toolbox. From drafting depositions to collaborating with teams outside your firm, it’s an amazing tool chock-full of features to help you run your business.
It’d be great if Microsoft Word for Lawyers existed. Unfortunately, the tool was created to be an all-purpose word processor for the general public. To make the most of the tech tool, you must develop competency in Word’s most lawyer-friendly features.
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Basic MS Word Features
Word comes preloaded with some great basic features for lawyers who spend full days scrutinizing and composing legal documents.
The days of circulating a paper copy for review are over. The track changes feature enables you and those around you to make changes to your documents for review. With the tool active, modifications show as suggestions you can approve or reject instead of immediately taking effect.
Of course, if you still need or want to print a copy of the document for review, you can do so with or without the redlines.
It takes what can seem like years to put together a legal document. Add in the need to format that document and you may find you’d rather hit your head against a wall rather than continue to mess with formatting. Thank goodness for Word’s Styles feature.
Styles are a simple way to apply pre-set formatting definitions to blocks of text. For example, you can easily designate a style called “Heading 1” which formats all of your first-level headings in a particular font, single-spaced, and centered. It’s a one-step way to apply multiple formatting settings for consistency throughout your document.
Word offers multiple sets of standard Styles already poised and ready for you in the toolbar. All you have to do is select your text and the existing style to re-format. Or you can either modify an existing style or create a new style to fit your needs.
Using Built-In Microsoft Word Styles
Microsoft Word has had the Styles feature for several versions, and the Ribbon-based versions (Office 2007 and up) kick it up a notch by offering multiple sets of standard Styles. Styles are grouped into Style Sets, and many of the Styles within the current set are available in the Quick Styles Gallery on the Home tab:
Click on the down arrow just to the left of Change Styles (the arrow that has a small line above it) to see the full list of Quick Styles:
The default Style set often features blue headings and fonts not particularly appropriate for legal documents. There are more choices over on the Design tab:
Either choose another Style set from the gallery or click on the Colors and/or Fonts drop-downs to the right to make the appropriate adjustments to the current Style set. Save your settings for your future documents by clicking the Set as Default button.
How to Apply a Style to Text
To apply an existing Style (such as one of the above) to your text, select the text with your mouse. Once your text is selected, click on the Style name in the Quick Styles Gallery on the Home tab. Your text will be re-formatted in the new Style.
To see a preview of how a particular Style will reformat your text, simply hover your mouse pointer over that Style and pause a moment—your text will briefly change to the new settings. It will revert to its previous formatting as soon as you move your mouse pointer away
Here’s another way you can choose Styles to apply to your text: click Apply Styles in the full Style set view shown above and get a complete list of Styles to apply (not all Styles are listed in the Quick Styles gallery):
Clicking on that button circled in red above will pop up a Styles pane to the right that you can also use to manipulate Styles:
Modifying an Existing Style
If you would like to apply a Style to your text but want a minor change, such as making the type a bit larger, right-click on top of that Quick Style and select Modify:
You’ll be taken to the Modify Style dialog box, where you can adjust the formatting in a variety of ways. To change the font as in our example, just click the font drop-down and scroll down until you find the font you want.
The easiest way to change an existing Style? Find some text in your document that’s already formatted the way you like, select the text with mouse or keyboard, then right-click the Style as previously. As you can see above, the first choice in the right-click menu is Update [Style] to match selection. Click that, and the selected Style will be updated with all of that text’s settings—font, justification, line spacing, etc.
Figuring Out What Style is Currently Applied So You Can Change It
If the text your cursor is sitting in has one of the Quick Styles applied to it, it’ll be selected in the Styles Gallery:
However, not every Style is a Quick Style (which is what makes it visible in the Styles Gallery). To determine which Style is applied to your current text, click the small launcher arrow in the lower right-hand corner of the Styles area of the Home tab (or use Alt-Ctrl-Shift-S) to open the Styles pane:
Again, it may be obvious from the Styles pane which Style is applied, and you can modify that Style by clicking on the arrow on the right-hand end and choosing Modify from the menu. To get a fuller list of available Styles, click Options at the bottom and change the setting in Select styles to show:
The Style Inspector (the middle button at the bottom of the Styles pane with the magnifying glass icon) tells you not only which Style is applied, but whether any direct formatting has been added:
Under Paragraph formatting and Text level formatting, you’ll see which Style has been applied plus any direct formatting that’s been added. The eraser icons on the right let you reset the selected text to the defaults.
Creating a New Style
What if you want to add a Style to the set you’re using? You can format some text the way you want it, then use that text as the basis for a new Style.
For example, you can create a “Block Quote” Style where paragraphs are single-spaced and indented 0.5? on left and right. Format the blockquote the way you want it, triple-click it with your mouse to select the entire paragraph, and get the contextual menu:
When you click Create Style in the contextual menu, you get the Create New Style from Formatting dialog box. That will allow you to name your new Style and modify it some more if you like (see “Modify an Existing Style” above), then save it.
Sharing Your Styles with Others
Part of the usefulness of Styles is their ability to standardize text formatting. If you’ve developed some Styles you want to use firm-wide (or just within your practice group), you’ve got some hurdles to clear.
First, Microsoft is pretty adamant: you cannot share the Normal.dotm template among multiple users. But you can copy any Styles you’ve stored in your Normal.dotm template to other templates, then share those templates with your workgroup. Open up documents based on the two different templates (Normal and whatever template you want to copy a Style to). Back on the Styles pane, click the Manage Styles button on the bottom right to go to the Manage Styles dialog box. Click Import/Export at the bottom left to go to the Styles Organizer.
Once you’ve copied your new Styles to special templates, you can designate a central network folder for those templates and point everyone’s Workgroup Templates setting to that folder.
To modify that setting on an individual PC, click the File tab and choose Options. Under Advanced, scroll down to the General section and click File Locations:
From here, you’ll be asked to designate a network drive/folder as the Workgroup templates folder:
If you have a large workgroup to share templates with, your IT support person will have a more sophisticated method of repointing everyone to a workgroup templates folder via the Windows registry.
Word’s auto-numbering tool is powerful and useful for attorneys. For example, it’s a great way to number affirmative defenses in your legal documents. You’ll find the auto-numbering tool in the toolbar with options to choose different numbering styles based on your needs.
You can also choose how to indent paragraphs and position numbers, as well as whether you want the next paragraph to continue a numbering sequence or stop.
Numbering in Microsoft Word
Word’s Auto-Numbering features are powerful and very useful for attorneys. However, they are not very intuitive. Here’s how to master paragraph numbering and more.
The way Word has constructed paragraph numbering—a twisted combination of fields and styles—makes it difficult to customize numbering to your preferences and easy to screw up somewhere along the way. If you are going to use Word’s native paragraph numbering, you will want to be armed with basic knowledge and some snafu-busting techniques.
Starting an auto-numbered paragraph is deceptively simple. See those buttons on the top row of the Paragraph section of the Home tab? The left-most one is for bullets; the next two to its right are for numbering and multi-level numbering, respectively. Simply click the button to toggle the feature on, or click on the drop-down arrow on each button to select a specific style. If you don’t like any of the delivered choices, you can click Define New to set your own.
If you use multi-level numbering, use the Increase/Decrease Indent buttons on the Home tab (just to the right of the numbering buttons in the Paragraph section) to change the numbering level of a particular paragraph. The numbering of subsequent paragraphs will self-adjust.
The first thing you will notice is the paragraph will not be indented the way you want. Microsoft has its own ideas about how your paragraphs should look, but you can override them. The quickest way is to right-click on the paragraph number you just created and choose Adjust List Indents from the menu that pops up.
If you are using the basic one-level paragraph numbering, you will get a small dialog box in which to make your adjustments:
Number position is what it sounds like: how far from the left margin the number should be placed. Text indent is how far from the left margin you’d like your paragraph’s second and subsequent lines to wrap. Most people choose Tab character for the following number with value, although you can also choose Space or Nothing.
If you are using multi-level numbering, the Adjust List Indents dialog box is more complex:
The values for Number position (here called Aligned at), Text indent and Follow number with are in the Position section at the bottom. With multi-level numbering, you also have easy access to settings that control the type of numbering at each level, the characters before and after each level’s numbers (period versus parenthesis), and the list number style (1, a, I, etc.).
Restarting/Resetting Paragraph Numbering Sequences
You can control whether your next paragraph number continues the current sequence or starts again at 1 within that same right-click menu. If one of your numbers gets out of sequence, simply right-click and choose Continue Numbering. If you want to force the number back to the beginning (say, you’re switching from interrogatories to requests for production), choose Set Numbering Value (which will also give you the option of continuing the previous list).
Adding Space Between Paragraphs
With the numbered paragraphs shown above, there is no extra spacing between the paragraphs. That’s easy to fix. Go ahead and type out at least part of your first numbered paragraph, then go to the Page Layout tab and adjust the value of Spacing After in the Paragraph section. Still no extra space? There’s one more setting to check. Click the launcher arrow in the lower right-hand corner to go to the Paragraph dialog box, uncheck the box next to “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style.” Click OK. That paragraph and all the remaining numbered ones will have more breathing room.
Placing an Unnumbered Paragraph in the Middle
You will occasionally want to place an unnumbered paragraph in the middle of a sequence, but the moment you hit Enter, another paragraph number pops up. To fix this, toggle paragraph numbering off by pressing the paragraph numbering button you used for the previous paragraph. (If you use the button’s drop-down, choose None as the numbering scheme.) Unfortunately, the paragraph settings won’t revert to Normal here; it’ll usually have the paragraph indented 0.25. Use the keyboard shortcut CTRL+Q to strip paragraph settings out, then revise the formatting as you wish.
When you are ready to restart numbering, you can use the technique above, or you can place your cursor inside a numbered paragraph above, click the Format Painter (the paintbrush icon on the Home tab under Clipboard), then click on the line where you want to restart numbering. Using Format Painter this way solves several paragraph numbering problems (the number sequence, indents, and inter-paragraph spacing) simultaneously.
Beyond Paragraph Numbering
Numbering can go beyond paragraphs and can include numbers other than plain Arabic numerals.
For example, you might like to auto-number like this:
If you frequently include items like these in your legal writing, you’ll want to construct these and keep them in your Quick Parts so you can insert them with two clicks.
The heading here could be anything: affirmative defenses in an answer, articles in a contract, etc. It doesn’t matter; the technique is the same with only slight variations. The result is that you’ll have a heading saved in your Quick Parts that will be numbered correctly, no matter how many items you add or delete. This makes this technique particularly useful in building templates for common documents; because it’s always easier to delete than add, they’ll re-number themselves after editing.
Two Word Settings to Check
When using fields like these in documents, there are two settings you’ll want to check (and re-set if necessary). Go to the File tab and click on Options.
The first setting, under Display on the left, instructs Word to always update any field values before printing a document. The second, under Advanced, will always display fields on the screen with shading so you can always see, at a glance, which items are just text and which are fields.
Auto-Numbering Affirmative Defenses
For our example, let’s do headers for affirmative defenses that say “First Affirmative Defense”, “Second Affirmative Defense”, etc. Put your cursor where you want your first heading to go, then go to the Insert tab, click on Quick Parts, then click on Field:
On the Field dialog box, you want to select the Seq field:
We’re going to name this “affdef,” but actually you could name it anything you like. Once you’ve done that, click on Options to define the field:
There are three settings we need to embed in this field. The first is to tell it what kind of numbering we want to do (in this case, “First, Second, Third”), what case we want to use (upper case, title case, etc.), and a switch to tell Microsoft Word to increment the numbers. Click each of these settings, being sure to click Add to Field after each one.
At this point, you can save this to your Quick Parts so you don’t have to go through the whole “inserting the field” sequence over and over again.
One caveat: you may occasionally notice that when you insert several of these in a row (easy to do when you click on Quick Parts and find where you’ve saved it), the automatic numbering doesn’t seem to work:
Not to worry. Click CTRL-A (to select all text), then click F9 to update all the fields.
Microsoft Word will update those fields anyway the next time you print or save the document, but you may want to force update the fields just to set your mind at ease.
When it comes to litigation, judges prefer attorneys to use hyperlinks inside their documents. Linking citations to the record is a big time-saver. Hyperlinks may also be useful for other electronic legal documents depending on their use.
To insert a hyperlink in Word, select your anchor text. Next, go to Insert > Hyperlink and copy the URL into the hyperlink field.
Word includes a legal blackline tool which makes it easy to compare two documents and visualize what changed between them. The blackline tool creates a new document to make it easy to see differences between documents and save those updates as needed. This is especially helpful when you need to compare two versions of a contract or other document.
Have a question about a specific line of text? Want to bring someone’s attention to something in a document? Comments are an easy way to communicate with those working inside the same document. Simply highlight the text and select Insert > Comment to add a note.
How to Get Microsoft Word
Microsoft Word is bundled with Office 365, which also includes Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive, and more. You can’t get Word on its own, but an Office 365 subscription with Word is just $8.25/month, and you can always choose not to install the other apps. If you are willing to pay a premium for a traditional buy-it-once license, you can also buy Word as part of Microsoft Office Home and Business 2016.
As with all the core Office apps, you can also use Word Online from your browser.
Microsoft Word Track Changes
The days of circulating a paper copy for review are pretty much over. Even senior partners are starting to prefer to review drafts in electronic form. So it pays to learn how to work Microsoft Word Track Changes to its full potential. Here are several ways to work Track Changes like an expert.
Choosing an MS Word Version for Your Law Firm
There are two versions of Microsoft Word for lawyers: standard desktop and Word Online. The standard desktop version is included inside the Microsoft 365 subscription, which also includes access to Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive, and more.
For your firm, you can purchase a Microsoft app-only subscription for $8.25 per user, per month to have access to the entire suite of tools, including Word. You’ll also have access to OneDrive, a secure cloud storage solution. Be sure to check out the additional subscription options to choose which one fits your firm’s needs best.
We recommend using both versions of Word: desktop and online. The online tool allows you to work on your documents in-browser whenever the app isn’t available or easily accessible. Plus, you can then download the Word app for your iOS or Android mobile device to work on-the-go.
Features of Microsoft Word for Lawyers
Some features in Word feel almost as if they were thought of and designed specifically for attorneys. Once you understand these tools, you’ll truly be using Word efficiently in your firm.
To be productive, each individual on your team must be working on the same version of a document. Otherwise, you’ll lose hours working on an inaccurate or outdated document. This is where version control comes in.
Word doesn’t have a native version control tool built-in. You’ll need to set up Microsoft SharePoint. This tool is a cloud-based service that enables your team to create sites to share documents and information with colleagues and partners.
Using SharePoint, enable versioning to track the history of a document, restore a previous version, or simply view a previous version to see changes made. SharePoint is available as a standalone service or included in select subscriptions.
It’s easy to share your documents with others from inside Word. Simply select Share from the top ribbon, enter the email addresses of the recipients and then select Send. Recipients will receive a link to your document they can open in their browser or on their desktop. You can share documents with people inside or outside your firm.
When someone opens the link, they’ll be able to collaborate in real-time using Word’s co-authoring feature. You’ll be able to see who’s working on a document and the changes they’re making.
It’s important to note that co-authoring isn’t available in older versions of Word. Additionally, you’ll need to have OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud-based storage tool, set up to take advantage of collaboration tools.
There’s no need to create the same types of legal documents over and over again from scratch. For example, each contract you make may start as the same document and evolve over time. To save critical minutes in your day, create a Word template to use each time you draft new documents.
Microsoft’s Mail Merge tool allows you to create a batch of documents personalized for each recipient. It’s perfect for sending bulk letters, emails, NDAs, notices, and more. The tool works by pulling names and addresses from a spreadsheet found in Excel or another source. Mail Merge then inserts contact information into each document instead of doing so manually.
We know what it’s like to send draft documents around for review only to receive more feedback than you were hoping for. This is why we like to restrict editing to specific sections before we send our documents. It’s easy to do inside Word using the Restrict Editing tool.
Beyond Word’s built-in features, you also have the option to install various add-ins to improve how you use Word. Let’s dive into some of our favorites.
How many documents do you sign in a day? Many electronic signature tools require several steps that seem counterintuitive to automation. The Adobe Sign add-in works inside Word, allowing you to place an electronic signature or digital signature inside any document with a couple of clicks. And, yes, you can send the document off right from the app.
Even attorneys require some help with grammar and readability. Although Word comes with a grammar checker built-in, it leaves much to be desired. Grammarly checks grammar and spelling as well as style and tone. Plus, it does so automatically—no clicks or additional steps required.
The Office Tab add-in enables you to open, view, and edit multiple Word documents in a single tabbed window, similar to your browser. Open, save, and close all files seamlessly, plus identify the files by marking each tab a specific color. For attorneys working on multiple cases at once, this is a potential gamechanger.
Woodpecker is an add-in specifically designed for solo and small firms. It allows you to standardize and automate your frequently used legal documents without leaving Word. Woodpecker automates manual search-and-replace processes, saving you critical time and effort in each case.
Legal documents contain critical client information that you must protect at all costs. Yet, these documents must also be shared across firms and locations. Word makes it easy to secure your documents with a few built-in features.
Securing Your Document’s Metadata
Each document you create includes data such as document properties and personal information. For example, each document will include metadata explaining the author, subject, and title of a document. Most of the time, this information will refer to confidential client or firm information. To prevent sharing this delicate info, remove the metadata.
Protect Your Document With a Password
Word makes it easy to add password protection to your documents. This ensures only the intended party (the individual you share the password with) is the only individual able to view or edit the document.
The steps are simple. Go to File > Info > Protect Document > Encrypt with Password. From there, you’ll simply choose a password, save the file, and check to make sure the password takes effect. It’s important to note that Word will not store passwords for you. If you lose the password, you’re out of luck. Be sure to store passwords in a secure place.
Opt-In for Read-Only
We all know how easy it is to open a shared document and make an accidental edit. It’s happened to all of us. To help mitigate that risk, opt-in to read-only before you share. Making a document a read-only file enables the document to be read, but not modified—perfect for final versions of depositions and contracts. You can find this feature in the Review tab inside Word.
Storing MS Word Files in a Paperless Law Office
The paperless law office should have an easy file storage workflow. Choose an organization system that makes sense for you and your firm. For example, create a folder in your documents labeled as Client Files. Then, create subfolders for each client that includes their case number and date of retainer.
It’s also a good idea to keep folders specifically for in-process documents or for documents that require additional review or signature. Once you complete a document, immediately place it in its rightful folder.
Finally, take time each week to sort through your files, removing the ones you don’t need and moving those that end up in the wrong place. You’ll thank us (and yourself) later.
Microsoft Office for Lawyers: The Powerhouse Tool
MS Office and Word are powerhouse tools for busy attorneys who want to automate some of their most tedious processes. As you dig deeper and get to know Word, you may be surprised at what you can accomplish. Make sure you’re spending time learning new features, watching tutorials, and training your team to make the most of the tool.