Microsoft Word Tips for Attorneys

By Will Marshall

Skilled word processing staff, particularly for smaller practices and transactional attorneys, are all but gone. Attorneys must increasingly handle their own documents, generally using the not-always-friendly Microsoft WordTM. Battling with automatic numbering is not the highest and best use of your time nor your client’s wallet. With that in mind, I offer a collection of some of my most often used techniques in Microsoft Word.

The instructions in this article relate to MS Word 2010, which I will clutch to my grave, not because it is perfect, but because I find later versions even more aggravating. I am sure an online search will yield comparable instructions in other versions.

1. Custom Views.

Let’s begin with a few tips for seeing under the hood, essential for efficiently using Word. Standard document views are found on the View tab at the left side of the ribbon toolbar. Normally, I work in Print Layout, but I use Draft in order to see (and more easily manipulate) things like page and section breaks. Very occasionally, only Outline view will reveal a formatting problem. Another critical viewing option is the show/hide button. It is found on the Home tab and is the button with the paragraph symbol or pilcrow (¶). When turned on, it reveals non-printing formatting symbols allowing you troubleshoot and manipulate them. While we’re here, occasionally you may have a document in which one line mysteriously has a random hard return that you can’t seem to get rid of, such that the line refuses to reach the right margin. If you click on the show/hide button, you will likely find a symbol of an arrow pointing down and to the left at the end of that line that looks like this: “↵”. It’s a line break. Delete it and you will solve the hard return problem. Another useful viewing option is to make field codes show as gray. Field codes are areas of text with some variable data that might change like a page number, section cross reference, or a date. Go to the File tab, click on Options and then Advanced. Under “show document content,” set field shading to “always.” This will allow you to easily spot field codes to keep an eye on their variable content. Finally, if you really need to analyze formatting in a document, use the “Reveal Formatting” pane. Click the Home tab and in the Styles section of the ribbon, click the small arrow in the lower right corner. On the dialogue box that opens, click the middle of the three buttons at the bottom to open the Style Inspector and click the left button on the bottom to open the Reveal Formatting pane. Highlight any text and its formatting attributes will be displayed.

2. The Paragraph is a Key.

This is a conceptual thing to be aware of about Word. If you click on the show/hide button to show formatting marks, you will see a pilcrow (¶) at the end of each paragraph. This symbol has embedded in it all the paragraph formatting information for that paragraph (line spacing, indents, etc.). This is why sometimes when you backspace delete at the end of a paragraph, the formatting of that paragraph abruptly changes. You have accidentally deleted the hidden pilcrow and all of its formatting information thereby applying formatting of the area after your cursor.  The paragraph formatting attributes are found in the paragraph dialogue box. Click on the Home tab and in the Paragraph section of the ribbon – you can see some of the attributes such as line spacing. Click on the small arrow in the lower right of this section and the paragraph dialogue box opens up. There is a key feature here that is critical for easy and consistent spacing of paragraphs. In the Spacing section, there are options for spacing before and after each paragraph. Don’t make the mistake of creating spaces between paragraphs using hard returns. Instead, simply highlight the text (in a contract, I generally highlight everything below the title to the concluding clause), open this dialogue box and set “before” to zero points, after to 6 points, or 12 if you prefer more spacing, and uncheck the box below saying, “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style.”  If you like this format, you can open a blank document, make these settings and click “Set as Default” at the bottom of the paragraph dialogue box and, when prompted, select for all documents thereby updating your basic template. You can also use this line spacing technique to create space after the title of the document. I even use it when composing an Outlook email to spread out an issue list I’m composing for a client for easier reading.  If you have a particular line that has space before or after it that you don’t want, highlight the line to see if the space is before or after, then in the Paragraph section of the ribbon bar mentioned above, you can click on the line spacing button (the one with the lines and up and down arrows) and on the drop down, select remove (or add) space before paragraph. Another important feature of the paragraph dialogue box is the Line and Page Breaks tab. If you have unexpected page breaks around paragraphs, headings or titles, it may be that Widow/Orphan control or “Keep with Next” boxes are checked. Highlight across the problem area and uncheck these boxes.

3. Removing Hard Returns.

Occasionally, when pasting a block of text into a Word document from another source, the text will have hard returns on each line such that each line ends before reaching the right hand margin. One can manually delete each hard return, but a faster way is to use the Find and Replace tool. It can be found on the Home tab at the extreme right of the ribbon. Click on “Replace” and in the “Find what:” field put “^p” (without the quotes). The ^ symbol is created using Shift 6. “^p” is a hidden formatting mark for a hard return. In the “Replace with:” field just put a space using the space bar. Click “replace all” or if you have other text you don’t want to modify, just click “replace” in that area. You will quickly replace all hard returns with a space and fix the problem. Careful – “replace all” can wreak havoc on a document if not used carefully. One more thing on the Find and Replace tool – click on “more” at the bottom and you will find many useful tools such as “Match case” (indispensable for distinguishing capitalized defined terms from non-capitalized terms) and “Find whole words only” which prevents you from finding and replacing a word string existing inside of other words, such as “our” within “hour.” Just be aware that the check boxes on these settings do not unclick themselves after you’re done, which can cause the tool to simply ignore words in a later search (e.g. due to different capitalization). Another handy tool is the “clear formatting tool.” On the Home tab in the upper right corner of the Font section, you’ll see a button with a small box with “Aa” and what looks like an eraser diagonally across its lower right corner. Highlight text and click this button and all the formatting will be stripped out of the highlighted text, which can help get rid of unwanted, but unknown attributes.

4. A Couple of Points of Style and Etiquette.

When you paste text into a document, quotation marks will often show as straight marks like this “”This is a bit of a giveaway that you’ve pasted text into the document from somewhere else. You can replace straight quotes with curly ones by simply doing a find and replace with a quotation mark in both the find and replace fields and clicking replace all. A quick note on pasting text – when pasting, put the cursor where you want to make the insertion and right-click. On the contextual menu, there are special paste options one of which, “Keep Text Only,” will (usually) avoid infecting your document with random formatting from the source. As you hover over each of these special paste options, the text will preview what you’re going to get. Experiment with each.Another tip is a matter of redlining etiquette. I really do not like to review a markup that has a thousand balloons down the right side letting me know of formatting changes the other attorney made. When you use the track changes feature, be sure to go to the Review tab, click and hold on the Track Changes button and select Change Tracking Options in the drop down. A dialogue box will appear. In the Formatting section, unclick the check box to prevent Word from tracking formatting changes. If confronted with a document with such balloons, click on the “Show Markup” button to the right of the Track Changes button and in the drop down, uncheck formatting and all the format change balloons will disappear.

I hope at least one of these tips will save you time in your practice. If you have a question about them, feel free to email me directly at

Will Marshall ( is a partner with UBM Law Group LLP.

To read the full article featuring more Microsoft Word tips for attorneys, click here.

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