Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Technology Shouldn't be a Legal Writer's Trigger Word


Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.

–Stewart Brand

Technology. To many of us legal folks, a trigger-word. Maybe you’re flooded with memories of that time you were typing away, 50 pages into a brief, and your laptop crashed. Or the time you spent an evening trying to excise weird formatting that was embedded so deep in your document, you gave up and started copying and pasting things into a new version. 

What’s sad is that these tech headaches make us lose sight of all the amazing things that technology can do for us. Both small and big. When you embrace it—truly embrace it—technology opens up new possibilities. New ways of thinking; new ways of writing; new ways of lawyering.

I’ve been developing a couple projects that use nifty tools to shed light on interesting legal questions (well, interesting to me at least, for example: can data reveal which words and phrases our judges prefer so that we can better communicate with them?). In sifting through the new stuff out there, I thought it was time for another post on leveraging technology as a legal writer.

I’ve got enough information for you that I’ll dish it out in two posts. First, today, some nuts-and-bolts for using the lawyer's best friend--Microsoft Word. Then next week, a few tools for the more ambitious looking to up their writing game in bold new ways.

I love the idea of ordering from secret menus. Like Arby's “Meat Mountain,” Burger King's “Suicide Burger,” and Chipotle's “Burritodilla.” Well, Word has a secret menu, too—little-known keystrokes that will cut time from your writing process. Microsoft publishes a list of all 100 or so strokes here. I thought I'd share a select few that might surprise you. Then I highlight a few other Word features that you might not be using to their full potential. 

Remove all word formatting (font, bold, size, italics, etc.): CTRL + Spacebar. And remove all paragraph formatting with CTRL + Q. 

Align text (center, left, right): CTRL + E, +R, +L, respectively. No more dragging your cursor to the top of the screen! 

Move a paragraph or table row. ALT + Shift + Up/Down Arrows. Click in a paragraph or select more than one and hold down Alt + Shift while pressing the up or down arrows. Your entire paragraph moves! This is helpful in legal documents where you want to change up your arguments’ order.


Return to the last edit points. Shift + F5. If you edit text and then move to another place within your document, Shift + F5 will move your cursor back to your previous edit. Very useful during the editing process when you're skipping around. 

Navigate to a specific part of your document. CTRL + G. Allows you to go to specific pages, footnotes etc. Great for editing and reviewing documents. 

Select an entire paragraph. Triple-click anywhere within the paragraph. 

Select a sentence. Hold CTRL and click anywhere within a sentence. Helpful for moving things around or formatting. 

Select a block of text. Hold down the ALT key and drag your mouse to select any rectangular area. This is just crazy--who knew you could do this?

Move Text without Copy-Paste. Highlight any block of text, press F2, and then place the cursor at the spot where you wish to move that text. Press Enter and the selection will be transported! No more CTRL-C and CTRL-V mayhem! 

Add placeholder text for designing your brief. This one will give you some real Word street cred. Word has a built-in text-filler function for putting together templates, designing your documents, etc. Type =rand(p,l). “p” is the number of paragraphs and “l” is the number of lines per a paragraph. 

The magic clipboard. This is going to blow your mind: Word allows you to stack things in your copy-paste clipboard and vomit them all out at once. In other words, you can cut different sets of text and images from multiple locations in a document and paste them all at once to a different location. Select some text and press CTRL+F3. You can highlight and add more entries to the same copy using the CTRL+F3 shortcut. Now press Ctrl+Shift+F3 to paste the content. 

Change the sentence case. Select some text, press shift+F3 and cycle between uppercase, lowercase and camel case (first letter in capital). This also allows you to instantly capitalize the first letter in all sentences that you select. 

Write anywhere on a page. Double click anywhere on the page to type there—most folks don’t realize you can do that.

The mysteries of Microsoft Word’s Style feature: 

Word's formatting uses what it calls “styles” to auto-format your text; you can find this option on Word’s main menu bar. A few styles you want to pay particular attention to:

Normal. Sets the default font type and size. Changing the font on the Normal Style will automatically kick that change down to other Styles like footnote text. If you are a Times New Roman, 12-pointer--set those in Normal. 

Footnotes. Word generally formats footnote text as 2 points smaller than regular text. But many courts (and lawyers) prefer full-size footnotes. You can set that stuff here. 

Headings. You should make sure to set all of the headings that you commonly use—including the highest-level heading, second, and third levels. These heading styles will also carry over into your table of contents.

Here is a link to a tutorial if you are ready to take the plunge on some more styles!

Your Word is your templ(ate).

Styles dovetails nicely into template-talk. You can create templates for all of the legal documents you commonly create, with preset styles and even pre-filled language or headings—for your go-to briefs, memos, letters, etc. You can also create a blank template that has all the default styles that you like to start from. It’s easy to create a template—just save your document as a “Word Template” file instead of a word document. 

Quick-click: your access bar.

Many of us ignore the quick-access bar, but you shouldn’t. Program the quick-access bar with the functions that you use most often (and discover some new functions that you might not know exist).

One of my favorite buttons is word’s calculator function: it instantly carries out any math that you type into your document. Nifty for adding up figures on the fly. Go to Word Options > Quick Access Toolbar, switch to All Commands and add the Calculate Command to your Quick Access Toolbar. Or find some other functions to add to your quick-access bar. 

Word add-ins.

Word has some excellent downloadable tools to help you be more productive. Perhaps the most useful is Word timers. This tool allows you to keep track of the time you’ve been working on a document. A built-in timer like this allows you to stay focused by breaking up your writing into chunks and making sure to take breaks. 

Sticky Text lets you save sentences or paragraphs that you use a lot. It also allows you to search the web without actually opening a web browser.

There are tons of other Word forms helping to legal writers, check some out here

Numbering formats.

Use Word’s numbering settings to pre-set all kinds of numbered text in your writing. This goes for any sort of numbered list, discovery response numbers, and much more. Setting these up requires two steps. First, define a new number value. Second, adjust the indents and spacing to your liking. 

Track changes and editing with others.

Working on writing projects with others is tricky, and deserves a whole article (or book) to itself. But for now, there are a couple neat tools you should know about. First, make sure you know how to filter out edits from different users. This allows you to see who made what change.

Second, learn how to restrict others’ from changing your document. You can restrict others from making changes in a certain section—say, once a section is final; you can restrict others from changing formatting in the document; or you can restrict people from editing at all. To access these settings, head over to the “Restrict Editing” section.

Finally, make sure you know how to merge edits when more than one person sends you their own versions of a document. This is a lifesaver when working on a bigger team. 

Page and section breaks.

Page breaks are helpful because they allow you to finish a page before its natural end (and keep that page together even when you add things later). Section breaks are like page breaks, except they allow you to have separate formatting for each section. So you can set distinct formatting for your preliminary parts, your main arguments, and your certificates of service, for example. 


Most lawyers ignore the power of hyperlinking. Don't. Try linking citations to the record on PACER or your state’s e-filing system. Many judges will love you for it. More sophisticated folks can also link exhibits and other documents (but that requires some more work). Hyperlinking is also useful for internal documents, like linking background documents in law firm memos to documents in a shared drive folder. 

Stay tuned next week for some more advanced tools--like using Microsoft Flow to automate tasks, alternate version of Microsoft explorer (that allows you to create tabs in folders!), email programs that use AI to sort your inbox--and much more. 

Joe Regalia is a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law and regularly leads workshops training legal writing and technology. The views he expresses here are solely his own and not intended to be legal advice. Check out his other articles and writing tips here

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