People notice your formatting

July 21, 2020

 

Have you ever heard a colleague make negative comments about the quality of another law firm’s legal document?  The number of typos or the misaligned paragraphs or inconsistent numbering or giant gaps on the page?  It’s frustrating because when you try and amend it, the paragraphs move around and the numbering seems to get more erratic. 
 

That begs the question as to whether other lawyers are saying it about your documents.  And more importantly, whether clients are saying it … and how does that affect their confidence in your skills.  People notice your formatting, just like you notice other people’s. 

Good lawyers train for years in how to be detailed, how to be precise, what to advise clients on very specific areas of law in extremely high value transactions, where an error can cost millions.  So the detail is vital.
 

Expectations are high
 

Law is a competitive market, and expectations of the firm of its lawyers, and in turn the clients of the firm, are high. 
 

Lawyers grow up using Word through school, university and law school and, when they join a law firm, they will generally be working in their own documents.  This is often because secretaries are working for a lot of people and there is a need for self-sufficiency, particularly when a secretary has gone home or when there is a lot going on in the middle of a complex transaction. 

Of course, this means that lawyers are expected to not only be great lawyers in providing quality service and valuable advice to clients but also be proficient in preparing complex documents in Microsoft Word. 
 

Expectation is high among clients too.  And rightly so.  Clients pay substantial fees for their lawyers’ advice, and their expectation is that the work product itself should also be of high quality as well. 
 

So if the document format isn’t up to par or if numbering and cross-references are incorrect, it shows a lack of attention to detail which affects a law firm’s reputation.  Indeed, incorrect clause numbers and “error” cross-references could materially affect the meaning of the agreement.
 

Time is money
 

When stress levels are high, the hour is late and a deadline is looming, the smallest things in a Word document can distract from the main task in a lawyer’s hands – accurate and detailed legal advice and a quality service being provided to the client. 
 

It could be gap on the page or that the words in a paragraph seem to have a life of their own.  Perhaps the sub-clause numbering insists on starting at (d) instead of (a), or there are a bunch of cross-references which now say “Error”.  Or the font keeps “flipping back” when you keep changing it from Arial to Calibri.  Some of these will no doubt resonate.
 

It stands to reason that lawyers could gain a great deal from knowing more about Microsoft Word - the software they are using all day every day. 

  • Lawyers benefit from the confidence and ease with which they are managing their workload, particularly if they are managing their own documents.

  • Clients will not only get great legal advice, but a well-formatted and consistent work product that reflects the care that the lawyer has taken in giving that advice.

  • Law firm owners and managers will have less non-chargeable time to write off on transactions with capped fees. 

  • Family and friends get more time because instead of being in the office at 7pm, the Word-savvy lawyer is having dinner with the family or is in the pub!

Training for self-sufficiency
 

If all that sounds like a no-brainer, the even better news is that it is very easily achieved. 

Training that focuses on the areas that cause the greatest number of issues is where the training should target.  Those made-up Word “hacks” that get passed around may well end up causing much bigger problems further down the line. 
 

If you didn’t know it, there are literally hundreds of shortcuts and tricks that Microsoft already makes available to save lawyer time, while still utilising the software correctly. 

Self-sufficiency is going to be key in the post-COVID era.  The self-sufficient lawyer is one who is confident, not stressed, earning fees and meeting targets, and always meets their deadlines … which brings very happy clients and law firm managers. 
 

And that’s a scenario that will make everyone happy.


Learn skills in Best Practice that will help you be efficient and self-sufficient in creating and amending your legal documents.  Register Now! 

 



 

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