A Tool Every Lawyer Has, Few Know How to Use Well

The word processor — sharpen your saw

A Tool Every Lawyer Has, Few Know How to Use Well

Carpenters love their tools. They learn about how different saws work, how different saw teeth shapes can achieve different results, and when different saws are used for different jobs. Carpenters learn how to sharpen their saw, lubricate them, and how to store them properly. Carpenters exercise creativity to envision how their finished product will look. They use analytical ability to understand how different cuts and parts are assembled. But, they realize their creativity and analytical ability in the real world by using their saws (and hammers, and rulers, and pencils).

In so far as I am aware, lawyers are not taught how to use their tools. We are taught that the common law, statutes, regulations, rules, and texts are our tools. Lawyers tell themselves they are paid for the knowledge and wisdom in their head — forgetting that they use tools to render that knowledge into a form for which clients pay. So, lawyers must learn to use their instruments as efficiently, effectively, and creatively as possible.

Rather than pursue the usual laundry list of software and technology that lawyers “must-have.” I want to focus on the tool almost every modern lawyer uses: the word processor. Most of the standard word processing applications will have all or most of these features. And, lawyers really should learn to use them if they want to know how to use the tool they use daily.

Paragraph and Page Styling: This will help you standardize and format your text consistently, efficiently, and effectively. If you are pressing “Enter” twice to create space between all the paragraphs in your briefs, letters, and factums, then you are missing out on a huge timesaver.

Insert Citation: Litigators produce Tables of Authorities. Solicitors, for long and complex agreements, create Tables of Contents. Using this feature, you can make these tables automatically and consistently.

Insert Cross-Reference: How often have you referred to a paragraph, page, or clause elsewhere in a document. Then, you changed the location of the text to which the referenced pointed. Only, you forgot to change the cross-reference or missed it during proofreading. The Insert Cross-Reference feature will minimize the risk of this embarrassing and potentially costly error.

Templates and QuickParts: Store your most commonly-used paragraphs, phrases, and other text and recall them using keyboard shortcuts or from a drag-and-drop menu.

There are many Add-Ons you can add to super-charge an application like Microsoft Word. Most are relatively inexpensive, and all justify their cost in time savings or in the value of preventing some very embarrassing errors. Here are some:

Grammarly: a spelling, grammar, style, and consistency checker that exceeds (by a lot) the built-in grammar and spelling checker.

WordRake: an editor that cuts out passive and redundant writing, especially good for those who aspire to plain language writing and drafting.

PerfectIt: an advanced checker that picks up on drafting points such as undefined abbreviations, inconsistent use of defined or undefined terms, common spelling mistakes in legal writing not picked up by standard spelling checkers, like “statue” for “statute,” or “in areas” for “in arrears.”

Woodpecker: especially for solicitors, helps you save, at the paragraph level, those template clauses and phrases you use most commonly, create questionnaire-based forms that allow you to draft commercial agreements and instruments quickly.

Finally, for those lawyers on the Microsoft 365 system, Word Online allows them to draft in real-time with clients or others. No more multiple versions of emails being exchanged back and forth.

Word processors are to lawyers as saws and hammers are to carpenters. Word processors are tools we use to realize our creative and analytical skills. When we can use our tools more skillfully, we can produce our products and serve our clients more quickly, efficiently, and effectively.

Related Articles