The benefits of 21st-century word processing tools for lawyers
Lawyers create documents—a lot of them. Day in and day out, regardless of practice area, all sorts of documents are created by your law firm, including letters, pleadings, contracts, legal memorandums and wills. It’s safe to say that the creation of documents is an inescapable part of practicing law.
That’s why the invention of word processing software had such a tremendous impact on law firms in terms of both internal processes and cost. With the rollout of traditional word processing software, documents could easily be revised and corrected—saving both lawyers and their staffs incredible amounts of time. This increased efficiency resulted in more productive and cost-effective use of administrative efforts and time.
For many years, word processing tools were premises-based, and there were very few options. Most firms used either WordPerfect or Microsoft Word. Over time, Word began to dominate, in large part because it was the preferred tool in other industries.
Then, with the emergence of cloud computing tools a little over a decade ago, things began to change. Affordable—and sometimes even free—word processing tools are now available that are accessible online, providing much-needed mobility and flexibility. Lawyers can log on from any internet-enabled device and access their word processing software in the cloud. And using that software, they can create documents that can be stored online in one convenient location.
Even better—there are collaboration tools built right into the software, allowing lawyers to work together in real time. These online collaboration features make it easier than ever to streamline the document creation process, saving both time and money.
But, before you dive in and choose a web-based word processing tool, it’s important to note that whenever you entrust your law firm’s data to a third party—as you do when you use an online word processor—you have an ethical obligation to thoroughly vet the technology provider that will be hosting and storing your data. This includes ensuring that you understand how the data will be handled by that company; where the servers on which the data will be stored are located; who will have access to the data; and how and when it will be backed up, among other things.
Also, it’s important to acknowledge that premises-based word processing tools continue to have a place in law firms. This is because they often have more robust features, and for that reason many firms continue to use them.
By way of example, that’s why I still use Pages, Apple’s word processing software, for some of my writing. But whenever I need to collaborate on a document with my colleagues, I always use my online word processing tool of choice, Google Docs (discussed below). The collaboration features can’t be beat, and once the document is in final form, it’s easily accessible to both me and my colleagues.
In other words, there’s no reason to use premises-based tools exclusively, especially since the collaboration features offered by online word processing tools are so appealing. So if you aren’t already using an online word processor, you’re missing out! If you’d like to learn more but aren’t sure where to start, here are a few of the more popular products for you to consider.
First, if your firm is already part of the Microsoft ecosystem, you should consider Microsoft Office 365. This is Microsoft’s online office suite, and it includes access to Word and other Microsoft applications, including Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. Like most cloud-based word processing software, it supports real-time collaboration and sharing features. Prices start at $69.99 per year, and it includes up to 1 TB of online OneDrive storage for each user.
Similarly, if you’re part of the Apple ecosystem and use Pages for word processing, Apple also offers an online word processing tool: Pages for iCloud. It’s free to use, but in order to do so you need to create an iCloud account. Once you’ve done so, you can create documents and share and collaborate on them in real-time with other iCloud users. Note that access via a free iCloud account includes 5 GB of storage. You’ll have to pay for additional storage.
Another option to consider is Google Docs, especially if you already use Gmail. This is because if you have a Gmail account, you already have access to Google Docs, even if you don’t realize it. You also have free access to Google Sheets, Google Slides, and Google Forms as well. Collaboration is where Google Docs truly shines. The interface is incredibly user-friendly, and real-time chat, editing and commenting can be done in tandem with whomever you’ve invited to collaborate. If you have a free Gmail account, then you’ll have access to 15 GB of free document storage. For more personal storage, you’ll need to upgrade to Google One or better yet, sign up for G Suite for Business for firmwide access.
One of the more popular standalone online word processing platforms is Zoho Writer, which is a very solid online word processor that’s well worth your consideration. It offers a robust feature set with sharing, editing, and real-time collaboration features. Documents can be saved to other cloud services, including Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and OneDrive, or you can save your documents to Zoho’s own cloud storage service, Zoho Docs. The first 5 GB per user (up to 25 users) are free, and you can purchase additional storage and accounts at very reasonable prices if needed.
Finally, two other well-respected options worth considering are Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice. Both are free, open-source word processing platforms. Apache OpenOffice is compatible with most other popular office suites, and along with robust word processing software also includes spreadsheet presentation and database tools, among others.
LibreOffice includes many of the same tools as Apache OpenOffice and is also compatible with other major word processing platforms. Note that real-time collaboration on documents isn’t as easily accomplished with these tools, and with each platform it will depend on your set-up and the type of documents you’re working on.
So if you haven’t yet tried working with an online word processing and collaboration tool, there’s no better time than now. They’re affordable or even free, and once you’ve experienced the convenience and ease of collaborating on documents in an online environment, there’s no turning back. So give one of these online word processors a spin today; you won’t regret it!
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York, attorney, author, journalist and the legal technology evangelist at MyCase, legal practice management software for small firms. She is the nationally recognized author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers and is co-author of Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier, both published by the American Bar Association. She also is co-author of Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for ABAJournal.com, Above the Law and the Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. Follow her on Twitter @nikiblack, or she can be reached at [email protected].