Whenever a lawyer creates a document, you can be pretty sure they’re using Microsoft Word.
However, many lawyers struggle with using this software, because it doesn’t do certain crucial things particularly well – for example, headings, sub-headings, numbered bullets, cover pages and tables of contents. If you work in a firm that has a document production team, your life may be somewhat easier, as they should be able to sort out these issues in Microsoft Word for you. But if you don’t have document production experts on hand, you may find yourself battling the Microsoft Word monster more often that you’d like to admit.
We sat down with Hayley Scheibel, BigHand Asia-Pacific’s Product Specialist, to find out how she helps lawyers and their support staff tame the Microsoft Word beast and achieve #WordPeace on a daily basis.
Hayley: Everyone thinks they know how to use Microsoft Word. Most people place it on their résumés without even thinking. When I left high school, I’m pretty sure I listed knowledge of Microsoft Word among my skills.
But, in reality, only a very small percentage of people truly understand Microsoft Word. It’s a very complex piece of software with a vast number of features and tools. I studied it for months and completed a course, and I use it extensively on a daily basis, yet I still wouldn’t say I’m an expert in Microsoft Word.
These days, I see Word as a giant puzzle. However, the reality is that most lawyers are too busy to solve it.
Hayley: Lawyers work with Microsoft Word every day. Some will use it for more than eight hours a day. It’s a big part of most lawyers’ lives. I think you’d be struggling to find a lawyer who doesn’t use Microsoft Word.
Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to use, especially its more complicated features.
The Microsoft Word manual is over 1,000 pages long, which is nearly as long as Tolstoy’s mammoth War and Peace (around 1,200 pages, depending on the edition).
Things often go wrong for lawyers when they use Microsoft Word, because they use many of its functions incorrectly. The next thing they know, Word has crashed and they’ve lost all their formatting or their numbered bullets have gone askew. More often than not, when this happens, they’re facing a tight deadline and Microsoft Word is adding to the stress.
But it’s important to remember that much of that stress can be averted simply by learning to use Microsoft Word correctly.
Hayley: Every document a lawyer sends out is reflection of the firm and their brand.
One of the most important qualities of a good lawyer is attention to detail. If a law firm sends out a document that has inconsistent formatting, even if the legal content is outstanding, it won’t fill the client with confidence.
You also don’t want clients receiving multiple documents from the firm, with different layouts or formats depending on which lawyers created the documents.
In addition, many firms repurpose documents. A lawyer may introduce a precedent from another firm or obtain a precedent from the other side in a transaction, which they decided to add to their database. It is important that these documents are adapted so that they are compatible with the firm’s own style guide. Otherwise, you end up with something that it not a reflection of the firm.
Hayley: Yes. Consistency is a big problem.
Over the years, I’ve visited a lot of firms and I’ve seen inconsistencies in firms of all shapes and sizes.
Law firms that don’t have style guidelines in place, such as many small firms, are the worst offenders. Every document has a different look and feel, depending on who drafted it. And lawyers themselves may be inconsistent from one week to the next.
I’ve even seen cases where the firms don’t have automatic templates for numbered bullets. Instead, the numbering is done manually, which means that every time a lawyer adds a new paragraph someone has to spend time renumbering all the following paragraphs. It’s a terrible waste of time, especially for very busy people.
I’ve visited firms where they use tabs to indent, which can create all sorts of problems in a Microsoft Word document.
In the end, a lack of consistency and the failure to create and use a style guide means that the documents coming out of a firm tend to reflect the mood of the lawyer who drafted them, rather than the firm itself.
Even in cases where firms do have a style guide, they may not have developed a method for ensuring that everyone follows it, so the whole exercise is pointless.
Hayley: It doesn’t need to be hard. There are two steps. First, you need to develop a style guide. To be honest, if you have a style guide, you are half-way there. Second, and crucially, you need to give everyone in the firm tools that will enable them to follow the style guide. You can’t just give those tools to the document production team. You also need to train the lawyers, because they’re the ones who spend the most time drafting documents.
At the same time, you need to ensure that the tools and software you’re using to ensure consistency are flexible, configurable and easy to use. Quite frankly, user-friendliness is vital in achieving firm-wide consistency.
Hayley: BigHand Hyperstyles is a terrific tool for law firms because it ‘legalises’ the functions in Microsoft Word.
By this, I’m referring to the way in which lawyers have very specific numbering systems that they use in court documents and agreements. When you use BigHand Hyperstyles, with a click of a button, an entire scheme can be imposed on a document that complies with legal formatting. You can use BigHand Hyperstyles to safely add numbering, a cover page or even a table of contents.
Because BigHand Hyperstyles is user-friendly, you’re ensuring both that your lawyers can work more independently and that they are producing documents that are consistent with the firm’s style guide.
BigHand Hyperstyles also contains renovation tools that enable you quickly and easily to fix documents where the house style has dropped out or that have other issues.
Hayley: Yes. Once firms have a style guide, it’s very easy for them to set up and implement BigHand Hyperstyles.
And it’s simple for users to learn. For example, it takes only about 30 minutes to train a lawyer to use the basic, everyday tools.
If you’re a user who isn’t comfortable with Word, BigHand Hyperstyles can help you apply your firm’s house style, add numbering safely, and preview current styles in a particular document.
If you’re a more advanced user, a wider range of tools is available that you will find useful, especially those that allow you to repair documents. When training document production teams, we spend a lot more time with them because we show them how to configure BigHand Hyperstyles and control their own work environment and house style.
After the training, we find that lawyers and their support staff seem to feel more confident about taking steps towards achieving consistency and even #WordPeace.