Microsoft Word for lawyers: tips and tricks that every lawyer should know

Microsoft Word for lawyers

Microsoft Word is similar to an iceberg: only its small tip is visible to an ordinary observer. Legal professionals, however, need to learn how to see underwater. Most of what makes Word such a powerhouse text editing tool is hidden from the laypeople’s eye, so it takes time, effort, and expertise to truly see how valuable this tool is for working with legal documents.

Because legal practice involves working with so many types of documents all the time, lawyers have to dig deeper and find better ways to create docs with Word. Jackie Van Dyke, a certified paralegal, owner/writing coach at The Paralegal Writer™, and Paralegal Studies Professor, recognized that “One of the biggest challenges when working with Word is to dedicate enough time to discover all the various helpful tools available.” 

Still, taking some time to learn the shortcuts and handy tools can save you loads of time in the future. Hopefully, with this guide, you will learn everything you need to know about Word for your legal practice. More than that, improving your Word skills may help you become a writer overall. 

“Mastering Microsoft Word and all its tricks empowers my clients and students to be better writers.”

Jackie Van Dyke
Jackie Van Dyke Certified Paralegal, Owner/Writing Coach at The Paralegal Writer™, and Paralegal Studies Professor.

With that inspiring quote in mind, let’s dive into the tips and tricks of Microsoft Word for legal professionals.

Word basics

One of the reasons Word is a dominant text editing tool among legal pros is because “Most professionals learned how to use this tool while attending school,” told Berlinda Bernard, a paralegal, writer, and blogger for Quintessential Pillar. It’s true, most of us know the basics of Word from before our careers begun, which sometimes acts as a trap: many of us think we know how to use Word, but in reality, we haven’t even started digging further since school. 

If you’re familiar with a shortcut for pasting unformatted text, you might want to skip the basics and go straight to the Styles chapter. Still, keep in mind that even the most experienced drafters can live years not realizing there’s a basic shortcut for what they do manually over and over again. So make sure you know and use these shortcuts.

Basic text editing shortcuts

Ctrl + X (Command + X for Mac) = Cut

Ctrl + C (Command + C for Mac)= Copy

Ctrl + V (Command + V for Mac)= Paste

Ctrl + Shift + V (Command + Shift + V for Mac) = Paste unformatted. A giant shortcut for legal professionals! Pasting unformatted text can save you time reformatting a messy doc in the future or even save your lists from getting crushed by the newcomer style;

Ctrl + Z (Command + Z for Mac) = Undo

Ctrl + Y (Command + Y for Mac) = Redo

Ctrl + S (Command + S for Mac) = Save

Alt+20 (Option + 6 on Mac) = ¶

Alt+21 (Option + 7 on Mac) = §

Double-click = select one word

Triple-click = select a paragraph

Find and replace = to replace all mentions of a specific term in a document with another term;

To create your own tailored shortcuts, use the Macros feature. We’ll talk about Macros further in this guide. 

Word count

Keeping track of word count is a good habit of any disciplined writer. In MS Word, you can track your word count in the bottom left corner of the screen. To get more details, click the Tools tab on the top of your screen and click Word Count to get information on character and paragraph count. Alternatively, click on the Review tab in the Ribbon Tabs (the upper taskbar in Word) and then click Word Count.

Styles: organize document formatting

Documents with clean, consistent formatting express true professionalism and attention to detail. Unfortunately, getting a messy document into a proper look is a nitpicky, monotonous task that often takes too much time and effort. Word Styles are a gamechanger tool for formatting your documents conveniently.

Using default Styles

The Styles pane sits in the right part of the Home tab. To apply a different formatting style to your text, select a paragraph and click on one of the styles in the panel. Word offers a library of default styles that may be handy in some cases, but most of the time is not very useful for lawyers. The best way to work with styles is to create a set of your own styles and stick to them.

Creating your own Styles

To create a new style, select a paragraph with the combination of font type, size, and line height and click on the Style Pane. Then click New Style and set the name and characteristics of your new style and click OK. A great way to work with formatting is to create styles according to structural parts of your common docs (Heading 1, 2, 3, normal text, etc.) and then reuse them accordingly.

Modifying Styles

If you’d like to change an already existing style, just right-click on it in the styles pane and click Modify. Make the required changes and save them.

Word Styles are handy for drafting documents, but their power is limited when you face a foreign messy doc or a new type of formatting. For these cases (and to speed up restyling of any document), we recommend trying out Loio, our Microsoft Word extension for reviewing contracts.

tool to review contract in Word

Numbering: create and change numbered lists

Lawyers have a love-hate relationship with lists. A clear numbering system makes contracts readable and easy to follow, but managing and editing lists can be a painful experience. Word has a vast numbering functionality, but its instruments often do not work intuitively. A little misclick or extra Enter tap can ruin your entire numbering system. Still, if you master these aspects of numbering in Word, you will definitely lift a tonne of text editing weight off your shoulders.

Set up numbering templates 

Creating a numbered list is simple: click on the list icons in the Home tab. Of the three list icons, the one on the left manages bulleted lists, the center one is for numbering, and the right one is for multilevel lists. You will probably use the right one most often. If none of the default list options satisfy your needs (which is often the case), click Define New Multilevel List at the bottom of the Multilevel List menu. The screen with new list settings will pop up.

On this screen, you can set up all the characteristics of your new list. The best way to avoid a shuffle is to create reusable templates of numbered lists for all the document types that you deal with the most. Let’s take a look at what exactly you can set up in the Define New Multilevel List menu.

Number format

The Number format section allows you to set up how each level of your list will look: the fonts and the style of your numbers (Roman, Arabic, letters, special characters, etc.).

Number position

With number position, you can align the location of the numbers on the sheet: centimeters from the left (or center, or right) edge of your sheet. You can set the number position independently for each level of the list.

Text position

The text position section allows you to set indents for the text in each list level.

Change numbering styles

If you edit someone else’s text or if your lists have suddenly run amok, just right-click on the selected number and edit the numbering.

Restart Numbering will create a separate list starting with the number you selected. This is a great way to break apart accidentally merged lists without any collateral damage. 

Continue Numbering does the opposite: it merges together the lists that got broken apart. In the same menu, there are also options to Increase/Decrease Indent in your lists, which might come in handy since Word often fails to create indents that fit legal documents automatically.

If you struggle with editing numbered lists on a regular basis, we suggest trying Loio, our contract review extension for Word, which has a separate tool for reviewing and fixing numbering issues.

Track Changes: for transparent document collaboration

If your job involves contract negotiations or just dealing with other parties’ lawyers, you have probably already heard about the Track Changes tool. This feature allows you to mark every correction that has been made to the document so that when you send the agreement to the other party, they see all your corrections.

To turn on the Track Changes session, click on the Review tab and switch the Track Changes toggle on. If you cannot turn on the feature, you might want to go to Review, click Restrict Editing, and then click Stop Protection to allow tracking. Always remember to turn this feature on before you start editing the text of the agreement, and do make sure that your colleagues from the opposing party do that as well. 

When on, Track Changes will mark all deleted text with a strikethrough, and all the edits will appear as underlined text. You can change how the updated text is displayed by clicking the Mark-up Options. Point to Balloons and click Show All Revisions In-line. Now, all the changes will be displayed as tabs in the text.

Finally, to help you perceive the text easier, you can hide some changes from the Track Changes view. Click Mark-up Options and tick any of the correction types (Comments, Ink, Insertions and Deletions, and Formatting) that you’d like to make visible in your session. Note that the person receiving your edited document will still be able to see all your changes.

Quick Parts: for frequently used text parts

Storing perfectly written clauses or paragraphs will save your precious time in the future, and you should start doing that if you haven’t already. Instead of copying and pasting paragraphs across documents, use Quick Parts to save these elements right into your Quick Parts Gallery in Word.

Quick Parts sits in the Insert tab under the Text section. To create a new element, select a part of your text that you’d like to save, click Quick Parts, then AutoText, then Save Selection to AutoText Gallery. You can now insert this text part into any document in the future by going to AutoText Gallery and selecting it from the list.

Templates: start each draft smoothly

If you’re drafting simple documents with standard layouts, you might want to check templates to avoid rebuilding docs with similar structures over and over again. There are several legal document template services and Microsoft has its own Custom Office Templates. If none of the solutions fits you, there’s always an option to create your own template by saving a document to your Office Templates. Here’s a step-by-step tutorial from Microsoft on how to do just that. 

Macros: create your own shortcuts

In case you are tired of typing specific symbols or words manually and often catch yourself thinking “Why isn’t there a shortcut for that?”, we have great news for you. Word’s Macros feature lets you create shortcuts of your own! To do that, click View in the Ribbons Tab, then click on the Macros drop-down menu (far right corner), then click Record Macros. Word will then ask you to name the new Macros (name it so you can understand what the shortcut stands for) and pick a keyboard combination as your new shortcut. Follow through and click OK.

When the recording has started, type what exactly you want to replace with a shortcut in the Word sheet. Then go back to Macros and click Stop Recording. Voila! Your daily paperwork has become one shortcut easier.

Document Inspector: remove sensitive metadata from your documents

As a lawyer, you probably have to deal with sensitive and confidential client data on a regular basis. To avoid looking unprofessional or facing the consequences of a clumsy data breach, make sure you remove sensitive metadata from your documents before submitting them. 

Metadata is the information that is not written directly in the text of a document but is still present and accessible through the file: comments, editor’s name, links, other invisible text content. To review the metadata present in your document, go to the File tab, click Info, then Check for Issues, then click on Inspect Document. If you’re using a 2016 or older version of Word, click Check for Issues and Inspect Document. Choose which categories of metadata you’d like to inspect and press Inspect. 

Document Inspector will display all found metadata by categories and you can delete anything that you believe shouldn’t be visible by the recipient. Then click Save and feel the relief. 

Add-ins: go beyond Word tools

“The biggest challenge when working with Word is that the editor will not understand the legal context, so it might make suggestions to a legal document that would not be appropriate or sometimes it might miss a word or two. I have worked in several legal settings that have used additional software that combines with MS Word which made drafting much easier through some form of automation.”

Berlinda Bernard
Berlinda Bernarda paralegal, writer, and blogger for Quintessential Pillar.

As good as it is, Word was not created specifically for lawyers, so its tools are limited and sometimes inadequate for working with legal documents. Fortunately, Microsoft offers an entire store of add-ins — extensions that you can install to your Word to widen the functionality of default features. To browse and set up add-ins, go to the Insert tab and click Get Add-ins. You can manage already installed extensions in the My Add-ins menu.

There are dozens of add-ins for various tasks: templating, proofreading, contract review (that’s what Loio is focused on), and more. Search in the Microsoft Store to see if there’s a match to your needs.

Since Microsoft Word is such a giant text editing instrument, there’s almost no limit to its functions. You will probably discover more shortcuts and personal tricks as you continue working in Word, but we hope this guide will help you get on this path of better and more enjoyable work.

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