REDMOND, Wash., March 19, 2001 — Over 900,000 lawyers in the U.S. submit one billion documents to courts across the country each year. When you consider the paper that another 1.1 million attorneys generate worldwide, and the fact that most legal documents never even make it to court, you quickly realize how important word processing is to the legal profession.
Word 2000 has become the top word processing program for the legal community. With Word 2002 -- a part of the Office XP suite of products -- Microsoft has incorporated many new collaboration, formatting and application stability features that address the needs of attorneys across the globe. Although many legal practitioners now use Word, widespread acceptance of the product took time to develop. Beginning about three years ago, Microsoft learned that Word did not fully address the intricacies of document production and management in the legal profession.
"Our legal customers wanted certain features incorporated into Office, and we decided to form a council to determine what we needed to change in the product to make it right," says Cory Linton, a Word 2002 product planner.
The coalition Linton refers to is the Microsoft Legal Advisory Council, a group of attorneys, IT professionals and other practitioners in the legal field who represent law firms of all sizes.
In February 1999, Microsoft invited approximately 20 council members to meet with Word developers. The goal: to solicit their feedback about product changes needed to meet the unique needs of users in the legal community.
Two things happened as a result of the collaboration with the Legal Advisory Council: first, Microsoft created and freely distributed the Microsoft Word Legal Users Guide to teach attorneys, legal secretaries, paralegals, and other employees of law firms and corporate legal departments how to create legal documents in Word 2000. And more importantly, Microsoft developers significantly improved the Word 2002 feature set based on the priorities set by the Legal Advisory Council.
"I think it was a very successful endeavor," says Council member Judith Flournoy, director of information technology at Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, a Park Avenue law firm. "It brought together those of us who had specific concerns about Word with a group of people from Microsoft who were going to focus on this. They gave us an opportunity to come together to talk about those issues that are near and dear to our hearts. It was the first opportunity that I'm aware of for law firms to do that in a very constructive way, where very specific information could be discussed and goals could be achieved."
The investment in developing this relationship was time well spent for both parties, says Flournoy, whose firm is now evaluating Office XP. "(Microsoft) heard the legal community when they spoke out. And they responded to the Advisory Council's very loud voice. I think it was a good effort all the way around."
Given the number of times a document may be exchanged and modified among clients, their attorneys and opposing counsel, the legal profession must have an efficient way to compare documents and incorporate text and formatting changes.
"In order to protect their interests, law firms must know exactly what in a document has changed," Linton says. "Word's comparison engine has been completely rewritten and it's more robust and accurate than any other product; we're very confident about that."
Microsoft enhanced Office XP and Word 2002 in particular to include a number of new collaboration features, including:
Legal blackline . This feature compares an original document with a second version of that same document that contains changes. Rather than incorporating the changes into the second document, Word creates a third document, called a legal blackline, which reflects the changes made in the second document. This feature allows a law firm to maintain a record of all document revisions and versions. "Because law firms track all versions, it's very important that they do not touch original documents," Linton explains.
Send for Review. Individuals can now send documents for review directly from individual Office applications and easily manage the workflow process of comparing and merging multiple documents. Editing, accepting and rejecting changes can be easily managed through a new user interface. Changes made by multiple reviewers can be merged easily into one complete document. The author or the document owner then can accept or reject one or all revisions on the blacklined copy. With a new view called Markup, Word users can more easily track changes, which are displayed as "call-outs" in the right margin of the document. These call-outs -- similar to "thought bubbles" in cartoon strips -- detail the substance of the change without obscuring the original document or affecting its layout.
Change Report/Layout Stability . Word can generate a report of all changes made to a document. Also, if a reviewer adds a block of text, the layout of the original document does not change. Whatever was at the bottom of page one in the original document, for example, remains on that page, despite an insertion that would normally bump text to the second page.
SharePoint Team Services . Teams can manage their projects and activities with a pre-built Web site solution called SharePoint Team Services that will be available with certain versions of Office XP. SharePoint provides an easy-to-create Web-based workspace. Word documents and other Office documents can be easily uploaded to the site to enable team members to access and work with documents via the Web.
Outlook Improvements. New Outlook 2002 improvements make it easier for the legal community to communicate with others by allowing them to access multiple email accounts within Outlook, integrating MSN Messenger service in Outlook and enabling people to easily schedule group meetings with others.
Legal documents are notoriously complex in terms of formatting -- they have detailed numbering, headers and footers, and many other elements. Inadvertent changes can easily be introduced.
The following features and others help legal practitioners produce professional documents and help clean up problem documents.
Multiple Select . Users easily can select multiple, non-contiguous areas of a document at once, thereby saving time when formatting their document. Additionally, with the Find feature, users can simultaneously select similarly formatted text and reformat it -- all in one step.
Reveal Formatting Task Pane . New Task Panes offer views that expose a wide range of new features to help people easily identify and make use of the features available in Word. The Reveal Formatting Task Pane shows -- at any point in the document -- the current font, paragraph, spacing, image, table, style properties and more. Users can more easily update any of these properties, and can also more easily apply formatting to their document. Furthermore, users can easily compare the formatting of two different sections of a document and apply the formatting of one to the other.
Styles and Formatting Task Pane. This pane enables users to see the formatting in use in a document (both styled and direct formatting), recently used formatting and all of the available styles. Users can then select all text in the document with the same style or direct formatting, and easily apply a new format or style. Users are also able to easily reuse formatting within their document without having to create new styles.
"To clean up a large legal document with a lot of formatting is a very complicated task," Linton says. "Features like multiple select and the various task panes will save law firms many hours." He adds that Word users can now easily accomplish the same kinds of capabilities former WordPerfect users enjoyed, such as reveal codes. "The Word 2002 features work well individually, but the real power is when you combine them to simplify complex tasks."
Legal documents commonly incorporate complicated multi-level paragraph numbering schemes. These and other new Word 2002 features make it easy to work with various list architectures.
Smart Numbering Techniques . Word 2002 improves the way users work with bulleted and numbered lists. Users can manually edit the number or bullet in the list or drag and drop bullets to change indents. Word 2002 is now smarter in the way it handles bulleted and numbered lists, causing fewer undesired results for the user working with combined lists, sub-levels, tabbing or plain text.
List Styles . Users now can define a style for a bulleted or numbered list. This makes it easy to make one list look exactly like another list by replicating the same indents and formatting.
Check Format . This functionality finds inconsistencies in formatting and allows the user to quickly fix them to create a consistent, professional looking document. Additionally, it can automatically fix formatting problems such as odd bullets and numbering and mixed paragraph spacing.
Style Separator . This feature allows users to keep two elements of text on the same line, even though only one of those elements is included in the Table of Contents. It's a special hidden paragraph mark that doesn't affect the layout of a document when you display paragraph marks or generate a table of contents.
Accessing Information with Smart Tags
New Smart Tags appear on the screen while users work to provide useful information for completing tasks or accessing data. Smart Tags offer AutoCorrect, AutoFormat or Paste options that give users control over automatic functionality in Office and help them accomplish their work more quickly. Smart Tags also can help users easily access information by automatically linking them to rich, up-to-date corporate and Web information directly from within Office documents.
For example, if a contact's name is typed in Word, a Smart Tag will appear and provide the option to automatically insert the contact's address from Outlook or send them an email or instant message; if a stock quote is typed into Microsoft Excel, a Smart Tag would appear with an option to access information about the stock from the Web.
Smart Tags are built with an extensible architecture, and developers can build custom Smart Tags. For example, West Group, the top provider of e-information and solutions to the U.S. legal market, has created a Smart Tag that enables legal professionals to easily access up-to-date case histories, legal definitions and other West Group legal resources without leaving Office XP.
"Microsoft can now confidently say that Word 2002 is the best word processor for legal users -- bar none," Linton says. "If users take a little time to learn about the enhancements and features of Word 2002, they won't be disappointed. It's a great product with a lot to offer, and they'll soon see that their productivity will greatly improve."