Microsoft Office (Even Excel!) Tips & Tricks That Every Lawyer Should Know

When you type, “are lawyers scared of technology?” in a Google search, you get a surprisingly large number of results.

The first result is a website devoted to paralegals working for attorneys who suffer from Technophobia. What’s the first sign of technophobia, you ask? Slow to adopt the hardware—laptops, iPads, or smartphones, for example.

If you don’t own any of these gadgets, you may suffer from technophobia (and, shame on you!).

But, never fear. There are a few treatments, such as focusing on the positive, educating yourself, and seeking a support group. At first glance, these suggestions seem farcical. But they create, in fact, the perfect vaccination.

First, stay positive. Attitudes are contagious.

Law firm professionals at every level should lead by example. Each time a law firm partner disparages technology or refuses to make even the smallest edits on PPT (unless it’s a billable-hour issue), it’s a symptom of technophobia. And people aim to emulate their superiors.

So, even if you don’t understand it, don’t put it down. There’s no doubt about it—the future of every industry is in technology. Law is no exception.

Second, educate yourself. Take a class or read up online. In the least, be familiar with terminology.

Did somebody in the office mention a “pivot table”? Look it up. In Excel, a pivot table helps summarize, analyze, and present data.

“In plain English, it means, you can take the sales data with columns like salesman, region and product-wise revenues and use pivot tables to quickly find out how products are performing in each region,” explains Purna “Chandoo” Duggirala in his online tutorial.

For corporate litigants, pivot tables can be quite useful. So, next time your financial consultants are explaining their data methods, you may not understand how to duplicate it, but you can at least define it.

See? That wasn’t so scary…

Third, seek a support group. There may not be a Technophobe Anonymous meeting in your area, but your firm can certainly create one. Law firm managers should provide year-round training for legal technology. Make attendance to at least one mandatory to encourage participation (and boost curiosity).

Employees in your IT department are familiar with the idiosyncrasies of your firm’s technology. And, a technology seminar increases the awareness by employees of software and tools available to them. Finally, a technology class at your law firm provides an efficient one-stop shop for all the questions employees were either afraid to ask, or who asked in 100 separate “help!” emails to their colleagues.

To get you started, check out the following must-follow features for lawyers in Microsoft Office. 

1. Microsoft PowerPoint (PPT)

A bit better corporation has everything you need to know about PPT. Check out the following suggestions, particularly useful for law firm professionals, like trial lawyers:

Save Your Fonts with Your Presentation

If you’re preparing a presentation that you plan to distribute to others, be sure that you check this option by clicking on the Tools button in the File/Save As dialog box.  This will work for most TrueType fonts on the Windows platform.

Displaying Keyboard Shortcuts in Tool Tips

If you’d like to see the available keyboard shortcuts for menus, commands, and toolbar buttons, go to Tools/Customize, click on the Options tab, and click on “show shortcut keys in screen tips.”

Making Auto-Fit Text Stop Auto-Fitting

Turn this feature off by going to Tools/Options, click on the Edit tab, and uncheck “autofit text to text placeholder”, click OK.

Getting Rid of Tri-Pane View

Unfortunately there is no way to permanently avoid this improvement, but you can quickly get rid of it by holding down the CTRL key when you click on the Slide View button.

Using Ctrl-Drag to Copy

You can quickly make a copy of any object by holding down the CTRL key while you drag on the object.  You will then “drag off” a new copy.

Making Slides Print Correctly

PowerPoint has certain defaults to determine how it prints each object on the page.  You can see over-ride these defaults. Go to View/Black and White; this will show you a gray-scale preview of how your slide will print.  To change the print settings for any given object, right-click on it, then click “Black and White”, and then choose the appropriate print option for that object.  Master objects can be selected by going to the Master page View.

Preview Slide Show Effects

While editing a presentation, hold down the CTRL key while clicking the slide show view button; this will open a tiny preview window showing that slide in slide show mode

For many more tips, visit PowerPoint Tips & Tricks.

2. Microsoft Excel

Use the following short-cut keys after reading exactly how lawyers use Excel for timelines, timesheets, and casework, here.




Unhides any hidden rows within the selection.


Unhides any hidden columns within the selection.


Applies the outline border to the selected cells.


Removes the outline border from the selected cells.


Applies the General number format.


Applies the Currency format with two decimal places (negative numbers in parentheses).


Applies the Percentage format with no decimal places.


Applies the Exponential number format with two decimal places.


Applies the Date format with the day, month, and year.


Applies the Time format with the hour and minute, and AM or PM.


Applies the Number format with two decimal places, thousands separator, and minus sign (-) for negative values.


Displays the Delete dialog box to delete the selected cells.


Selects the current region around the active cell (the data area enclosed by blank rows and blank columns).

In a PivotTable, it selects the entire PivotTable report.


Enters the current time.


Enters the current date.


Alternates between displaying cell values and displaying formulas in the worksheet.


Copies a formula from the cell above the active cell into the cell or the Formula Bar.


Copies the value from the cell above the active cell into the cell or the Formula Bar.


Displays the Insert dialog box to insert blank cells.


Displays the Format Cells dialog box. 

3. Microsoft Word

Ribbons. Have multiple documents open at once? Want to save them all? Save time by making this a ribbon.  The Save All and Close All commands are not part of the default Ribbon, but they’re easy to create. you can easily add them to your Ribbon.

Go to File –> Options –>Customize Ribbon. Select Commands Not in the Ribbon under Choose commands from column. Presto! Add it to your Quick Access toolbar and never worry about accidentally closing unsaved documents.

Oops. Did you accidentally close unsaved documents?

Recover unsaved documents with File –> Info –> Manage Versions. Then, click on the little dropdown and select Recover Unsaved Documents.

Lawyerword. This ad-on software steamlines MS Word for lawyers. LawyerWord software includes specific time-saving features, such as: firm templates, firm style sets, advanced document clean-up features, batch printing, layout tools, field tools, legal numbering tools, simplified markup tools.

Microsoft OneNote. MS OneNote is not, technically, MS Word. But, it may surprise lawyers to know that the MS OneNote program offers law firm professionals powerful ways to divvy up information and rapidly locate documents, photographs, and other electronic files.

“My opposing counsel kept looking at me with obvious envy as I made my argument to the judge why certain key evidence should be excluded from the trial we were involved in. I could tell from the look on the attorney’s face that he was puzzled how I could refer to portions of the record, prior witness testimony, exhibits, case law, and a brief that I had previously submitted, all without a single piece of paper in front of me,” reports one trial lawyer to Microsoft.

“The only thing I used was my laptop and a mouse. He sat at a table with loose papers piled haphazardly, manila folders strewn about, and a Bankers Box on the floor, stuffed to overflowing.”

Throw out clutter along with your technophobia.

As a law firm professional, you need to crunch loads of data in a short amount of time. You may already know a great deal about MS Word and PPT. Excel, however, reamains the most misunderstood and under-utilized arrow in a lawyer’s quiver.

So, educate yourself about Excel in C4CM’s 90-minute interactive webinar, Excel for Financial Reporting: Shortcuts, Tricks, and Time-Saving Tips.

By the end, you will be able to:

  1. Construct an integrated financial model – from scratch!
  2. Utilize new techniques that help you build spreadsheets effectively
  3. Use the What-If data analysis tool, and
  4. Applying tips that minimize errors, save time, and store information.

There will always be Google search inputs like the question, “are lawyers scared of technology?” But, hopefully, your firm won’t reach top of the list of results.



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