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Microsoft Word is a complex application, so much so that most of us use only a fraction of its capabilities. But you don’t have to spend all your waking hours becoming a bona fide Word ninja to extract a lot more productivity out of it.
Here are three high-leverage features you should get to know better.
Most Microsoft Word users are accustomed to thinking of AutoCorrect as a fixed background feature, that thing that automatically corrects typos like “teh.” They don’t realize that it’s highly configurable — to the extent that it can automate certain repetitive (and annoying) formatting issues that crop up often in legal documents.
AutoCorrect works off a behind-the-scenes database of common misspellings. Microsoft has supplied a default set, but you can customize it. For example, AutoCorrect can act like a text expander. No additional software required! You can even configure it to insert common symbols, like paragraph or section when you type ‘((p))’ or ‘((s)),’ or to insert formatted text like id.
Say document assembly to most lawyers, and they immediately think of some expensive piece of software they have to hire an even more expensive consultant to install and train them on. But document assembly comes in lots of levels. The easiest one to adopt is already within Word. Quick Parts allows you to store snippets of text you can drop into any document. I use it for form Certificates of Service, notary acknowledgments, signature blocks, repetitive objections and affirmative defenses, and even custom footers and watermarks.
The next time you pull up an old document to copy-and-paste some text you use a lot, take a few seconds to copy that text to a blank document and genericize it. Now you can select it and save it to a Quick Part by going to the Insert tab and clicking Quick Part, then Save Selection to Quick Part Gallery. Forever after, it will be available to you in two clicks, saving you the whole search, copy, paste and edit operation. You can even embed self-updating fields like dates and page numbers, saving even more time and editing.
This one gets my vote for the highest-leverage feature in Word. It’s the behind-the-scenes driver behind automated features such as Table of Contents, Table of Authorities, paragraph numbering, outlines — you name it, Styles is probably behind it. Even if you’re not using Styles intentionally, every piece of text you touch in Word has a Style assigned to it.
For example, say you’re working on an appellate brief and the court requires footnote text to be a certain size. Most Word users click into the first footnote, select the text, resize it, then repeat those steps for every footnote. If you know Styles, though, you can reduce that to just a few clicks by updating the Footnote Text Style. This will automatically update every footnote (current and future) in your document. You can perform that same update-all-at-once trick with any Styles-based text — block quotes, Table of Authorities entries and so on.
Use Styles intelligently for your brief’s headings, and your Table of Contents becomes an easily inserted, self-updating wonder. Those Styles-based headings even enable you to see a bird’s-eye view of your document’s structure and move entire sections around, courtesy of the Navigation Pane.
Many legal professionals don’t use Styles because Microsoft’s default Styles aren’t appropriate for legal documents. Part of the beauty of Styles, though, is they’re almost infinitely modifiable. Tweak the default headings, add a few custom Styles (block quotes, deposition quotes, any type of text formatting you use frequently), and save them to your default (aka Normal) template. Voila! Problem solved.
The more you familiarize yourself with these three features, the more you’ll find creating and editing documents in Microsoft Word easier and less frustrating. Start small, build a few AutoCorrect entries, Quick Parts or Styles you know you’ll use often, and you’ll reap the productivity benefits from now on.
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