Should your firm switch from WordPerfect to Word?

Be warned, if you want a yes or no answer, you won’t find any bobble heads here. Rather than say “Yes! Switch!” and ride the gravy train through your conversion, I’m going to suggest you take a step back and objectively think this through with me.

Let’s start with your goals. What are you trying to accomplish by converting to MS Word? What do you want/need to do that you can’t do now? Why can’t you do it? Are you having trouble with document formatting? Is it that you just don’t know how to successfully convert your documents from Word to WordPerfect and back? When is the last time you had computer training? What version of WordPerfect are you currently using? Do you need to upgrade your software to WP13?

(If you switched to MS Word, it wouldn’t be to Word 97, Word XP or Word 2002, so why expect an outdated version of WordPerfect to work “perfectly” with the newer versions of MS Word your clients may be using?)

Why does any “WordPerfect Firm” consider switching to Word? Time and time again, the reason has been the same: To allow clients to revise their documents and . . . “everybody uses Word.” If that’s your answer, I have two responses:

1. If you regularly update your software, you have always had the ability to successfully convert documents from Word to WordPerfect and back.

Even if you have an outdated version of WordPerfect, there is a “trick” you can employ. For more information, see my post entitled “Converting Between WordPerfect and Word

2. If you currently grant your clients the right to edit their own legal documents, consider a change in methodology to eliminate the risks associated with doing so, while eliminating extra work at the same time.

What do I mean by “a change in methodology?” Collaborate on document content instead of sharing editing rights. When I say that out loud, I’m often asked to explain the difference, so let me say it another way: Just because you collaborate on document content, doesn’t mean the document must be edited by all the collaborators. Doing so exposes you to risk.

(Risks? What risks? Sharing document revision with clients and outside attorneys puts law firms at risk. To better understand the risks, read my posts entitled, “Metadata, Shmetadata. It won’t happen to me.” and “Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.”)

The following alternative should be considered:

If you are already a “WordPerfect Firm,” continue to harness the power of WordPerfect to create and edit complex legal documents. If you are a “Word Firm” continue to use Word (hopefully maximizing results with styles and templates). Incorporate the use of the latest Adobe Acrobat as outlined below. Provide documents to clients in MS Word format only when the client demands editing rights.

Offering the production of legal documents as a value added service will be much easier with new clients. Established clients will need to be convinced this upgrade in service will better protect their interests. The successful implementation of the following methodology is the best evidence.

Providing Documents to Clients: Since 2004, with the release of Adobe Acrobat 7 (and now v8), the FREE Adobe Reader provides on screen commenting, markup and text edits (if they are enabled by the sender of the document). The process is VERY easy for both the sender and the reviewer. The Adobe Reader even recognizes this comment enabled document and walks the reviewer through the process. Reviewing in Adobe Acrobat Reader allows for document collaboration, but it does not allow the reviewer to actually modify the original document. Revisions can then be done in house, protecting the integrity of the document content and eliminating that risk I mentioned before. For additional information, check out the link below. The “Collaboration” section in the Legal Professional White Paper is very compelling.

http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/solutions/legal

Receiving Documents from Clients: If you decide to accept revised documents in MS Word, simply upgrade the latest version of WordPerfect (v13, also called x3). Documents received in MS Word format can easily be opened with WPx3.

(Use the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack to enable Word 2007 documents to be opened in previous versions of MS Word.)

Before dismissing all this and continuing to allow clients to edit their legal documents in MS Word, an understanding of the risks mentioned above and in the Adobe White Paper is critical. After gaining a full understanding of the risks, ask yourself, “Who is ultimately responsible for the content of the document?” Who will the client say is ultimately responsible? If, after considering the risks, a decision is made to continue to allow others to edit legal documents, converting them between MS Word and WordPerfect is seamless with WordPerfect x3.

My professional recommendation is for law firms to offer clients the value added service of legal document creation and production. (Remember when we used to do that?) Take back ownership of the editing process. Provide documents to clients for review only, in PDF format. Incorporate those changes in house – with whatever word processing software your firm currently uses.

Allowing others to edit documents for which your firm is ultimately responsible exposes you to risk. More and more, documents are being provided in PDF for review. Even the courts require documents be submitted PDF.

So before asking the question “Should our firm switch from WordPerfect to Word?” ask the question, “Should our firm provide documents to clients in PDF for review and comment only, maintaining editing rights to guarantee the integrity of our documents and eliminate our risk?” I know it’s a long question, but you’re attorneys, you can handle it.

Where’s that bobble head when you need it?

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