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.•


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. I commend Joe for standing up to this tyrant attorney! You ask why? Well I’m one of David Steele victims. I was in desperate need of legal help to protect my child, David saw an opportunity, and he demanded I pay him $3000. Cash. As I received motions and orders from court he did nothing! After weeks of emails asking him to address the legal issues, he responded by saying he was “on vacation “and I should be so lucky to have “my attorney” reply. Finally after lie on top of lie I asked for a full refund, which he refused. He then sent me “bills” for things he never did, such as, his appearance in the case and later claimed he withdrew. He never filed one document / motion for my case! When I finally demanded he refund my money he then turn to threats which scared my family for our lives. It seem unreal we couldn’t believe this guy. I am now over $100,000 in debt digging out of the legal mess he caused my family. Later I was finally able to hire another law office. I met Joe and we worked diligently on my case. I soon learn Joe had a passion for helping people. As anyone who has been through a legal battle it is exhausting. Joe was always more than happy to help or address an issue. Joe was knowledgeable about all my concerns at the same time he was able to reduce the stress and anxieties of my case. He would stay late and come in early, he always went the extra mile to help in any way he could. I can only imagine what Joe and his family has been through, my prayers go out to him and all the victims.

  2. Steele did more than what is listed too. He purposely sought out to ruin me, calling potential employers and then lied about me alleging all kinds of things including kidnapping. None of his allegations were true. If you are in need of an ethical and very knowledgeable family law paralegal, perhaps someone could post their contact information. Ethics cannot be purchased, either your paralegal has them or they do not.

  3. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  4. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  5. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise