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Microsoft Word Fundamentals for Efficient Lawyers and Law Students

This guide provides tips and links to tutorials for key tasks in Word that lawyers and law students undertake daily.

AutoFormat Enable and Override

Problem: You keep typing 4th, but Word insists on displaying 4th.  Because Word automatically changes ordinals into superscripts, your citations do not comply with the Bluebook’s required format.  

Solution: Disable the AutoFormat option that automatically superscripts all ordinals.

Explanation: AutoFormat automatically configures text for designated text as you type.  For example, AutoFormat will change "straight" quotes to “smart” quotes, superscript ordinals from 4th to 4th, change double hyphens -- to dashes , and format bulleted lists.  Word’s default settings enable some AutoFormat options.  The tutorials below explain the AutoFormat options that Word offers and provide a step-by-step explanation with supporting visuals on how to enable or disable those options.


Pro Tip: If you do not wish to disable an AutoFormat option for all of your documents, you can manually override the AutoFormat option each time you type the relevant text.  To do so, directly after Word AutoFormats your text, use Ctrl + z (Windows) or Command + z (Mac) to “undo” the AutoFormat.

Capitalization Changes


Solution: Rather than retyping your text, use the Change Case button on the Home tab to change the text of your sentence from uppercase to sentence case.


Pro Tip #1: Carefully proofread your text after you use the Change Case feature.  This feature will save you time in the long run, but it may not change the capitalization exactly as you wish it to be changed.  For example, you will still need to review your text to make sure that the single letter “i” remains an uppercase letter.

Pro Tip #2:  The Font Dialog Box provides you with additional options for changing the appearance of your font. For example, you may use this dialog box to strike through text, superscript text, or to use SMALL CAPS TEXT, which you will need for citations that appear in legal journals.

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Inserting Symbols with AutoCorrect and Shortcut Keys

Problem: You now frequently use § and ¶ in your writing.  Manually inserting these symbols each time you need them is too much trouble and takes too much time. 

Solution: You have two options: (1) use AutoCorrect to change a sequence of keystrokes to your symbol, or (2) assign a shortcut keys to symbols that you frequently use. 

Explanation: Whether you chose to insert symbols using AutoCorrect or a shortcut key will likely depend on whether you prefer to remember a sequence of keystrokes (AutoCorrect) or a combination of keys (shortcut keys). 



Assigning a shortcut


Pro TipSometimes you may not want your text to AutoCorrect. Rather than deleting AutoCorrected text and typing it again, you can manually override AutoCorrect. To do so, directly after Word AutoCorrects your text, use Ctrl + z (Windows) or Command + z (Mac).


Margin Modifications

Problem: You know that the court rules and the course policies establish margin requirements for your document, but you can’t figure out how to ensure that your document conforms to those requirements.

Solution: Word automatically sets a one-inch page margin.  If the court rules or the course policies require different margins, use the Margins gallery on the Layout tab to modify your document’s margins. 




Pro Tip:  If you are uncertain about your document’s margins, you can check them within the Page Setup Dialog Box on the Layout tab.  As an alternative to using Word’s preset margin options identified in the explanation above, you can also modify your document’s margins from the Page Setup Dialog Box.
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Paragraph Formatting General

Problem: I need a quick tutorial on paragraph formatting in general.

Solution: Microsoft has a one minute video and accompanying written instructions for that!  The video and written instructions include the following topics:

  • Changing Paragraph Alignment
  • Changing Paragraph Spacing
  • Adding Bullets or Numbering
  • Changing Paragraph Indents

Line and Paragraph Spacing

Problem: Most of my document should be double spaced, but I need some parts to be single spaced, such as my headings and block quotes. 

Solution: Start out by double spacing your document.  From the Design tab, select the paragraph spacing drop down menu and select Double. Note that this tab also gives you six other spacing options, including a “tight” paragraph that eliminates the space between paragraphs.  Next, select the text that you want to be single spaced. From the Home tab, select the Line and Paragraph Spacing button in the Paragraph box, and select 1.0 spacing. 


Pro Tip: Word’s paragraphing preset options that you will find on the Paragraph Spacing pull-down also allow you to control the space between paragraphs as well as between lines in the paragraph. If you want more refined control over your line and paragraph spacing, use the Paragraph Dialog Box located under the Home Tab.

First Line Indents

Problem: You want the first line of each paragraph to include an indent, and manually adding a tab at the beginning of each paragraph is tiresome.

Solution:  Adjust your document’s paragraph settings within the Home tab using the Paragraph Dialog Box located in the Paragraph section.

Explanation: When you include a first line indent, the first line of your paragraph is indented by a half tab more than the remaining lines in your paragraph.  First line indents help your document to more visibly set off paragraph breaks, which enhances your document’s readability.  You can easily add a first line indent manually by using either the tab button on your keyboard or by adjusting the document’s ruler tabs.  However, the most efficient way to add a first line indent is to adjust your paragraph settings so that Word automatically creates a first line indent each time you begin a new paragraph.

Click on image to enlarge


Pro Tip:  You should use first line indents only when you do not have spaces between your paragraphs.  As explained by Typography for Lawyers: “First-line indents and space between para­graphs have the same rela­tion­ship as belts and sus­penders. You only need one to get the job done. Using both is a mis­take.” 

Paragraph Alignment--Left, Right, Center, Justified

Problem: Word defaults to left alignment, which means that the text lines up flush with the left margin.  However, your supervisor prefers text to be fully justified, meaning that the text lines up flush with the left and right margins.


Solution: On the Home tab, in the Paragraph section, click on the Justify button.  If you have already started drafting, select the text that you have drafted before you click on the Justify button.

Explanation: The Paragraph section provides buttons for the most common types of paragraph alignment.

Tutorial (including instructions on alternative methods for adjusting your documents alignment): 

Pro Tip: While using the paragraph alignment buttons is easy, using the relevant shortcut keys is even easier and more efficient. 
Left: Ctrl + L (Windows) or Command + L (Mac). 
Right:  Ctrl + R (Windows) or Command + R (Mac). 
Center:  Ctrl + E (Windows) or Command + E (Mac). 
Justify:  Ctrl + J (Windows) or Command + J (Mac). 
For more information on general shortcut methods, click here

Bullets and Numbered Lists Creation

Problem: You’d like to create a list to visually offset information within your document, and you’d like all of your information to align uniformly.

Solution: Create a bulleted or numbered list.

Explanation: If you are starting with a blank document, place your cursor where you would like the bulleted or numbered list to appear.  From the Home tab, click the arrow next to Bullets or Numbering, select the style you would like, and start typing.

If you have an existing list, highlight that list with your cursor.  From the Home tab, click the arrow next to Bullets or Numbering, select the style you would like, and Word will apply your choice to the highlighted text.

You can also create a multilevel list by using the tab key to indent the text you select.

  • To do for Tuesday
    • Reading
      • Civil Procedure, pages 182-214
      • Con Law, pages 212-318
    • Other
      • Sign up for the Richland County Probate Court Guardian ad Litem Program
      • Send resume to Career Services for review
  • To do for Wednesday


Bullets and Numbered Lists Formatting

Problem: You’ve included a bulleted or numbered list in your document, but you would prefer for the spacing between the bullets and the text to be smaller. You anticipate wanting to make other formatting changes, too, but you’re going to tackle those issues as they arise.

Solution: You can adjust the list indents by selecting the bullets or numbers, right clicking, and selecting Adjust List Indents. You could also adjust the indents manually by sliding the arrows on the ruler at the top of your document, but that method would apply to only one number or bullet, and not your list as a whole.  

Explanation: You can control the appearance of your list in many ways, including adjusting the list indents, adjusting the space between items in your list, changing the bullet style, and changing the starting number in the list.  


Tabs Set, Clear, and Remove

Problem: You would like all or a part of your document’s text to align on the page differently than Word’s formatting presets.

Solution: Use the Ruler to set tabs in the locations on the page where you want your text to align. Simply click the location on the Ruler where you want the tab to appear.

Explanation: Tabs control the placement of text.  You can set different kinds of tabs: left, middle, right, decimal, and bar tabs. To view the Ruler at the top of your document so that you can easily set tabs, select the View tab, then check the Ruler box within Show. To clear or remove a tab, drag the tab off the Ruler.


Pasted Text Format Control

Problem: You’ve copied text from another document, but when you paste that text into your own document, the text retains its original formatting, which then alters your document’s formatting.


Solution: Use the Paste Options button , which appears above your text when you paste it. Select Keep Text Only to paste your text without its original formatting, and Word will conform the pasted text to your document’s text. 


Pro Tip: Use shortcut keys to make cutting (or copying) and pasting more efficient. 
Cut: Ctrl + x (Windows) or Command + x (Mac). 
Copy: Ctrl + c (Windows) or Command + c (Mac). 
Paste: Ctrl + v (Windows) or Command + v (Mac). 
For Word for Windows, read about other shortcut methods to select text, including whole sentences and lines, by clicking here. For Word for Mac, click here, and see the section on “Select Text and Graphics.” Additionally, if you’d like more information on cut, copy, and paste, watch this short, helpful video.

Page Break Controls

Problem: Information that needs to stay together on the same page—like your signature block—is split between two pages. 

Solution: You could use the Enter button to push onto the next page the information that you need to keep together. However, this method could create formatting issues when you later edit your document because adding or deleting text will move the text that falls below those edits.  Instead, use a page break to push the text onto the next page.

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Pro Tip:  You should avoid stranding your signature block on a page all by itself—it could be separated from the rest of your document easily and attached to a different document without your knowledge.  Stranding information on a page is called “widowing.”  To prevent widowing your signature and to keep your signature company, you should move your document’s closing sentences onto the page that includes your signature.  You can accomplish this move in two ways.  First, using the process described in the tutorial above, you can insert a page break prior to the text that you would like to move with your signature.  Second, you can use the Keep with Next option in the Paragraph Dialog Box so that the text you select always stays together, causing the text to move to the next page.  Both tutorials above address how to use the Keep with Next option; however, for the Word for Windows tutorial, you must watch the video to learn about Keep with Next. 

Page Delete

Problem: Your document includes a blank page at the end that you can’t get rid of.


Solution: Documents sometimes contain a non-deletable end paragraph that spills onto the last page, thus causing the document to end with a blank page. You can delete the blank page if you can fit the end paragraph onto the preceding page.

Explanation: Sometimes, deleting a blank page is as easy as selecting all of the lines on the page and hitting the backspace or delete button.  Other times, deleting the last page can be more complicated because your document includes coding that may not be visible to you. 


Pro Tip: If you want to make invisible coding visible, select the ¶ button in the Paragraph section of the Home tab.
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Page Number Insert or Delete

Problem: You know that the court rules and course policies require you to number the pages in your document, but you don’t know how to efficiently include page numbers.

Solution: From the Insert tab, use the Page Number button within the Header & Footer section.

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Pro Tip: The first page of your document doesn’t always need a page number if it’s self-evident that the first page is the first page. Word allows you to omit the first page number. The tutorials provided above each address how to omit the first page number from your document.