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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. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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