Start Page: Microsoft Word for the legal profession — format defaults

April 5, 2017

WilsonOne of the first formatting options you probably learned with Microsoft Word was how to change the font. But many professionals open Word, start typing and then change the font options. This is inefficient, causes distractions and can lead to procrastination.

Sharpen your focus

Lawyers should focus on creating content, not formatting. Lawyers have an ethical duty to be careful about procrastinating (Rule 1.3, [3]). Further, Indiana is amending Rule 1.1 Competence (specifically, Comment 6), to make clear that lawyers have a duty to maintain technology competence as part of their practice. The proposed comment reads:

To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with the technology relevant to the lawyer’s practice, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.

Can Microsoft Word help you maintain competence and avoid procrastination? Yes, if you take some time to make your software tools work for you. For purposes of this article, (1) think through how you want your documents to appear before they leave your firm; and (2) set your defaults to have that occur automatically so you can focus on writing.


Microsoft Word starts with a default font, like Calibri. You can change the font (e.g., Times New Roman), the size (12 point), and the effects of the font (bold, italics or underline, etc.). Here’s how to change the default font so that all documents you create have your preferred starting font.

Look for the “Font” area of the toolbar. Normally, you might click the drop-down arrow next to the font name to change the font. The limitation with that method is that it changes the font only for that paragraph or the selected text. To change the font for each document you create, click on the arrow on the lower right-hand corner of the menu box (or press Ctrl D) and Word will open the Font option box where you choose your default options.

In the box, select your preferred font, set the font style to regular (not bold or italics), and set the default size (typically 12). Finally, click “Set as Default” in the lower left-hand side of the Font option box. You will be prompted to choose if you want the changes to apply to the open document or “all documents based on the Normal template.” Choose the “all documents” option since you want your default font to appear each time you start a new document in Word.


Next, change the defaults for how your paragraphs appear. Again, think through how you typically format your documents. Do you like single or double spacing? Do you always press the tab key to insert a tab at the start of a new paragraph? Or, would you prefer Microsoft Word to automatically set your paragraphs to your liking on each press of the enter key?

Start with adjusting the default line spacing. This is located under the Paragraph section of the toolbar. Click the drop-down arrow in the lower right-hand corner of that menu (or press Alt O P) to open the Paragraph option box. Set the spacing to zero (both before and after) and the line spacing to your preference. I usually set to single and format with a style (discussed later), but adjust to your preference.

You can also set up your paragraphs to automatically indent the first line of the paragraph. Under the “Indentation” menu, choose “Special: first line.” Then, set the amount of indentation (e.g., 0.5”) so that each new paragraph will automatically start 0.5” to the right of the margin. Now, when you press enter, Word will add the “tab” for you, starting a new paragraph with the indent applied.

As with the default fonts, you can set these options as the default for all new documents. Also, you can set the default tab stops, add custom tab stops, and control line and page breaks. Most of these options are outside of the normal use cases for lawyers, but work through the options to see what the possibilities are in case you run into an issue with your document.


As we’ve learned, Microsoft Word formats between the ¶ marks in a document. But, Word can also format different “sections” of a document. Think of an appellate brief. On the first few pages, you might want lower case Roman numeral page numbers (e.g., i, ii, iii). The remaining part of the document contains Arabic (e.g., 1, 2, 3) page numbers. This formatting challenge will be addressed in the next article.•


Seth R. Wilson is an attorney with Adler Tesnar & Whalin in Noblesville. In addition to practicing law, he helps manage the day-to-day technology operations of the firm. Seth writes about legal technology at sethrwilson.com and is a frequent speaker on the subject. The opinions expressed are those of the author.


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