If you’re spending hours every week formatting documents and re-aligning signature fields in Microsoft Word, there’s a simple way to cut out these manual tasks and give yourself back more time to focus on billable work: by creating and using templates.

The best part is with templates, document creation can be automated in just a few clicks and shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. Here are eight Microsoft Word tips for creating reusable templates of the documents you use most often.

8 Microsoft Word tips for automating document creation

1. Make note of variable information

To turn any document (whether it’s for closing a commercial property or finalizing a divorce) into a reusable template, you should first make a copy of it and comb through it to identify any variable information.

Variable information is any information that is specific to the client and matter (for example, names and addresses). Remove this and any other PII information from the template you’re creating and leave a field that can be filled in for other clients and matters. As opposed to a blank space, consider adding placeholder text (such as “First Name”) instead—this will allow you to use Bulk Insert (i.e. find and replace functionality) later.

2. Improve organization and readability with a table of contents

For more complex documents, a table of contents may make it easier for the reader to navigate. (Note that with pleadings, you may be limited by court rules and a table of contents may not be allowed.)

Use Word’s built-in functionality for paragraph and section numbering as you’re creating your template, which will automatically create a table of contents section and adjust it dynamically if you edit any titles or remove numbered sections:

Using this functionality also lets Word automatically update any cross-referencing information in the document as you’re editing.

3. Reduce manual data entry with preset fields

Instead of manually entering information that’s required across different documents, why not use Word’s field codes to automatically populate those fields?

Say you have a signature block with a blank space and the current year listed—but it’s near the end of November, and you’ll have to update all your documents with the new year soon. To save time, simply add a field code that inserts the year.

From the Insert option in the menu, go to Quick Parts and then Field Codes. It’ll let you choose the format you want for dates as well.

But what if this date will be referenced in other documents? For example, a date of execution is something that’ll likely come up in other documents filed in that matter. The date field code won’t carry this over to a separate document. In this situation, you'll want to use something like a Clio Draft field to store that data so it can be reused later in other documents:

4. Use conditional logic to automate clauses

Conditional logic is a valuable tool when working with Word documents. It gives your templates more flexibility by automating the insertion and deletion clauses and fallback options (which also reduces human error). 

Clio Draft’s conditional logic functionality can automatically add or remove clauses based on specific client and matter information, and trigger conditions by using answers from a multiple-choice field. This way, you don’t have to manually type or copy and paste information every time—just point and click:

This conditional logic functionality also updates multiple sets of documents simultaneously—including adjustments for pronouns and subject-verb agreement—which is essential for keeping documents accurate across multiple clients and matters.

Alternatively, you could also use Word's own conditional logic, but it is more complicated and code-intensive.

5. Reveal hidden symbols to solve formatting issues

When copying a document to turn it into a template, you may run into formatting issues carried over from the existing document, and you might be unable to see what’s causing it. (Is that a line break, or just a double space?)

If this ever happens, just turn on the “show formatting symbols” option, which will reveal every new paragraph and pagination break in your document:

6. Add page breaks to maintain separation between sections

Page breaks not only keep your document clean but also keep your breaks where you expect them. You could hit the Return or Enter key until you get a new page, but if you insert or remove enough text (maybe for a particularly complex matter) to affect the number of lines in your document, that would potentially change where your new page begins.

A page break would guarantee that the beginning of a section in the document (say, “Schedule A”) will always start on a new page.

Alternatively, you could use section breaks when you want to change the formatting or have a different header and footer for an entire section in your document. Maybe the first eight pages are your petition and the ninth page is your certificate of service. If so, that’s where you would add a section break, which allows you to have a footer that says “Petition” on the first eight pages and “Certificate of Service” on the ninth:

7. Go beyond basic tabs to maintain column spacing

When adding signature lines in a document, most people will hit the tab key to get from the left to the right signature line. But if the name length changes, those tabs and signature lines may get thrown out of alignment.

Here it would be better to do a tab stop, which is the l-shaped symbol in the ruler at the top. This lets you insert a single tab and regardless of how long the left text is, the right text will start at the same point.

However, tab stops aren’t always foolproof because tab stops still go back to the margin you set in your ruler—if your text is too long, it’ll wrap back to your left margin, not your tab stop.

In the below example, there are three columns and the parent’s name is probably longer than the allotted space:

With tab stops, that parent’s name would wrap all the way to the left margin and end up being under the name of the child. An alternative is to use a table, which would wrap the text back to the left margin of the column and no further—a much cleaner result. If you’re building a case caption, using a table here would be your best option.

8. Set default styles to speed up formatting

Many of the defaults in Microsoft Word are not what courts typically use. Most people use the default style in Word with one-inch margins, which may not comply with local court rules that require, for example, one-and-a-half-inch margins. The default typeface in Word is also currently Calibri, whereas many courts require Times New Roman.

Instead of manually making this change every time you open a new document, you can create a style in Word that applies to new documents universally. It’s possible to have multiple styles within one document—like one style for lists and another for appendix sections. In Word, it’s also possible to create different styles, so you could have one for the Washington State Court and another for the Southern District of Indiana.

Want to turn your Word documents into templates?

Lawyers spend hours upon hours formatting documents and creating drafts. By using the above Microsoft Word features, you can create templates that reduce the amount of valuable time spent on editing, copying, and pasting data. 

And if you want to extend these time-saving automations in Word, Clio Draft is designed to help you turn any Word document into a reusable template—a significant time-saver especially if you routinely use the same few document types.

See how it works with a demo, and get started with Clio Draft today!

Download A Lawyer’s Guide to Document Automation and Building Legal Documents in MS Word eBook to learn quick tips on using MS Word's free features to build legal documents.

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