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Start Page: ‘Excel-erate’ your practice by learning Microsoft Excel

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WilsonMany attorneys I know are reluctant to use Microsoft Excel. But, most of those attorneys have ideas of how they want to view and sort data. This article (and maybe some YouTube searching) will give you a starting point to help turn your dreams of organized and easy-to-understand data into reality using Microsoft Excel.

What is Excel?

Excel is a spreadsheet program. A blank spreadsheet looks like an empty Battleship game board. There is a grid containing columns and rows. Spreadsheets contain cells that are organized in horizontal rows (labeled with numbers) and vertical columns (labeled with letters). The cells in the grid can contain text, numbers, formulas and so on.

Another way to think of Excel is as a visual calculator. You enter a list of numbers and Excel can add, subtract, multiply, divide, sort and summarize those numbers based on the formula used. Excel includes many formulas and an extensive “Help” menu for users to find the right formula for the task at hand.

Excel also handles time and dates. You can use Excel to calculate the time between two dates, useful for keeping track of case and project deadlines. Excel has powerful charting and graphing features, allowing for a visual representation of data.

How to input information to Excel

To type information into a cell, click on the desired cell with your mouse and start typing. When you are done typing, press Enter (or Tab). That will move your cursor out of the cell and to another cell. Later, if you want to edit the information in that same cell (and not just type over it), you will need to double click on the cell to be able to edit the text.

You can also edit the text in the formula bar (the white space in the middle of the screen just after the “fx”) after clicking on the cell and placing your cursor where you would like to edit.

Example: hours worked calculator

That said, the best way to learn Excel is to use it. Open a blank spreadsheet. Take the following steps to build a spreadsheet to calculate how many hours you worked this week.

Click under the first column (A), in row number 1 (A1) type the word “Monday.” Press the tab key. Pressing the tab key should have moved your cursor one cell to the right. Now, in column B, row 1 (B1) and type the word “Tuesday.” Repeat this process to input the remaining days of the week in C1, D1, and E1.

Now, in F1, enter the word “Total.” Press the Enter key.

Click in cell A2. Now, enter the number of hours you worked Monday (in A2), Tuesday (in B2), and so on through Friday as a number (e.g., 1 for 1 hour, 2 for 2 hours).

Once you have put numbers in each cell under the days of the week, you are ready to create the “Total” cell (F2). In cell F2, you want Excel to add all the numbers you put in the cells for Monday-Friday (A2-E2) and provide you the total number of hours worked.

First, tell Excel that cell F2 will contain a formula. Simply type “=” (equal sign) to start the formula. Don’t press or click anything else, as you are not done building the formula. Next, tell Excel that you want the total of all the hours you worked this week (Monday through Friday) to appear in this cell. In Excel language, you want to create a formula that adds cells A2 through E2.

Type the “=” sign in cell F2 (unless it is already there), click on cell A2, then type “+” (the plus sign), click cell B2, then type “+” and so on until you have added all the cells that contain the number of hours worked during the day (i.e., A2, B2, C2, D2 and E2).

After you click E2, stop. Don’t press any other key or click your mouse. Look at the cells you just added to your formula. Excel highlighted them for you so you can quickly see what is being added (or was missed). Now that you have visually checked your calculation, you can press enter to place the formula in cell F2. Now if you click on F2, you will see your formula (=A2+B2+C2+D2+E2). Translation? Monday’s time is being added to Tuesday’s time, all the way through Friday. Grab a calculator and check.

Hopefully, working through this example helps reveal the power and possibilities of Excel. Excel can easily calculate medical bills, hours worked, dates and time, and so on. Excel can also create charts and graphs. Excel’s built-in formulas can handle everything from routine to highly complex calculations. Lawyers should learn and use Excel.•

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Seth Wilson is a partner at Hume Smith Geddes Green & Simmons LLP in Indianapolis. In addition to practicing law, he helps manage the day-to-day technology operations of the firm, and frequently speaks and advises on legal technology issues. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. Indianapolis employers harassment among minorities AFRICAN Americans needs to be discussed the metro Indianapolis area is horrible when it comes to harassing African American employees especially in the local healthcare facilities. Racially profiling in the workplace is an major issue. Please make it better because I'm many civil rights leaders would come here and justify that Indiana is a state the WORKS only applies to Caucasian Americans especially in Hamilton county. Indiana targets African Americans in the workplace so when governor pence is trying to convince people to vote for him this would be awesome publicity for the Presidency Elections.

  2. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

  3. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  4. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  5. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

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