Word is a piece of legal technology that every lawyer uses, says CiteRight CEO Aaron Wenner
The Toronto-based legal research collaboration platform CiteRight has launched CPD courses to help lawyers wield the power of Microsoft Word.
The courses are officially credited by Ontario, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia law societies.
Word offers more useful functions than lawyers typically realize, says CiteRight’s CEO, Aaron Wenner. He likens it to a “really complicated Ferrari,” which most only drive in first gear. He says that building proficiency in the basic features of Microsoft Word is one way for lawyers to build efficiency in their practice.
In CiteRight’s announcement, chief customer officer Ariel Nacson says features such as Quick Styles, multilevel lists, and track changes could help lawyers save “countless hours.”
CiteRight is offering the courses for free through December, and they are each worth 1.5 professionalism hours. The company plans to offer more courses in 2023, including the advanced use of Word and popular PDF editing techniques.
Canadian Lawyer spoke with Wenner following the announcement of the course offering. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you decide to develop a course on Microsoft Word? Why should lawyers be strengthening their Word skills?
It comes directly from our experience making a collaboration platform for litigators that has a Microsoft Word plug-in as one of its pieces. We spent a lot of time getting deeply familiar with the ins and outs of what Microsoft Word can do.
Our customer support team and our chief customer officer, Ariel Nacson, found that many of the conversations we were having for support didn’t have much to do with CiteRight. They had a lot to do with navigating some of Word’s quirkier features or just trying to get things done. Things like formatting and document outlining.
We realized there was a real gap in the education marketplace.
I can tell you, as a lawyer myself, Word is on my desk all the time. I’m pretty good at it. But there are lots of things that Word can do, of which I had no idea. We think a lot about legal technology and its role in the profession. There is a glaring piece of legal technology that nearly every lawyer has in front of them: Microsoft Word.
It’s hugely functional. And there’s a real case to be made for learning how to master the tools you already have.
When we helped people use Microsoft Word, the need to balance lawyers’ and law firms’ exposure, understanding and diversity of choices of legal technology with their need to keep costs down and manage the tools they already have came together. We thought it would be a great opportunity.
And the last piece I’ll add is that we’ve always been interested in providing informational services to legal professionals.
You and I spoke when we launched our electronic filing toolkit when COVID happened. We tracked, in real-time, how courts were changing their rules.
This is all of a piece. We want to provide useful legal information to people and believe we have the skills to do it.
What are examples of Microsoft Word functions of which lawyers are typically unaware?
Word has a pretty decent clause library built right into it.
It’s not a clause library that’s pre-populated. You have to populate it yourself. But if you find yourself writing the same boilerplate clauses repeatedly, you can select them, add them to Quick Parts, and then have them at your fingertips.
So, if you have a good nondisclosure agreement and a standard confidentiality clause, you can build up that clause library on your own and even share it across the firm. It’s all part of Word’s basic functionality.
How can Microsoft Word help lawyers and law firms better use their resources?
Part of the ongoing discussion is how best to think about legal technology. Law firms and lawyers have access to more types of tech now than they ever have before. And yet, the tools on people’s desks are not always used as well as they could be.
Before acquiring new tools, understand the tools we already have. How do you use Word even better?
You said the courses align with initiatives CiteRight has undertaken in making resources available to legal professionals. Can you expand on that?
One of the things that we did was our electronic filing toolkit. As courts were moving into e-filing in the middle of COVID, we kept a close eye on as many courts in Canada as possible – which was most of them – and built up a database that we were updating, in real-time, as courts were developing e-filing rules. Each court had done it in its specific way.
Some people have different attachment file size requirements. Some people have different ways of formatting.
Some people were using portals. Other people just had email addresses to which they wanted things submitted.
We pulled together our staff, built out that database, and made it freely available, which you can still see on our website.
Similarly, again in early COVID, one of the things that we saw was that courts were just rapidly changing their overall practice requirements. Some people were going online only, and some were going online only under certain circumstances. Some things were being postponed. Some things weren’t.
So, we monitored every one of those pages that we could find and built up a live Twitter feed that made its way onto our website of today’s news in recent court changes. We heard a tremendous amount of positive feedback from people that this was a legitimately useful thing for them to be able to consult.
There’s a lot that Microsoft Word can do. It’s an extremely functional, extremely complex tool. Microsoft Word is the first place that many lawyers can start to build efficiency in their practice, because knowing how to use the basic features already there will make a tremendous difference.