Introducing Guest Blogger Tamara Portnoy – “Attorneys: Stop Cannibalizing Documents”

Tamara Portnoy has worked for attorneys since 1985, but her real passion is computer software. She expresses this passion in law offices by creating tools to make work flow more smoothly.

She has worked for six firms, in three different states, in nearly every area of law, whether the firm had 2 attorneys or over 500, and all of these attorneys used computers as just glorified typewriters.

She earned her paralegal certificate and then returned to the same program two years later to develop and teach computer use to paralegals. No course was offered at the time she went through the program.

From 1995 to 2000 she worked in Silicon Valley at an internet start-up, seeing it grow from angel investors to initial public offering and merger with a competitor. After spending several years at home raising two children, she returned to working in law offices and found that many attorneys have improved their computer skills but most still use computers only as digital typewriters.

She learned to leverage the power already built into software. Now is the time to improve efficiencies and reduce duplication, waste, and errors in the law office. Pressure on the billable hour and client demands for cost reduction make this the perfect time for lawyers to embrace the power of the technology already sitting on the desk.

Stop Cannibalizing Documents

Commonly, when you need to prepare a pleading or document you think “the last case I did one of those for was _____.”  Then you hunt that document down, gut it, and reassemble it with new information. Too often you miss something like ending up with mixed pronouns or a date of October 30, 2007. It is also common to overwrite the original file unintentionally. Keeping templates reduces the risks of poor proofreading and accidental deletions common with that method of document creation.

Why Templates Are Useful

Templates are a better way to generate often used documents like pleading headings, requests for hearing, proposed orders, contracts, wills or trusts. Once you save a template, you avoid accidentally overwriting source documents or spending time looking for documents to gut and use. Keeping a file with the boilerplate of a document is simple enough but the advantages in templates come in how you structure the areas of a document that change by case or client.

Creating A Basic Template

The most basic improvement would be adding bookmarks to the template. Open the document you want to make into a template:

1.) Go to the first location where you will have to insert text that is client/case specific.

2.)Select Insert > Bookmark > Type a bookmark name that is meaningful to that location and click the Add button. You now have a bookmark by that name in your template. Watch and maintain spacing around the bookmark.

3.) Insert bookmarks at each location you will need to insert text.

4.) In this very basic method and repeating information must each have a unique bookmark and bookmark name. If you use a bookmark already defined in the list the previous location will be deleted in favor of the new location for that bookmark.

5.) When all locations have been bookmarked, to save as a template choose Save As > change the File Type to Word Template either 2007 or greater (.dotx) or earlier versions of Word compatible (.dot). Change your save location to be Trusted Templates save and close the template.


To use the bookmarks in the template:

1.) Create a document by double clicking on your template (it will open as “Document #” instead of the filename. New > Select Template

2.) Select Insert > Bookmark

3.) For each bookmark in the list, double click it to move to that location, then close the Bookmark window and type the correct text in the bookmark location.

While this might seem like a lot of work it ensures you don’t miss any location where information is required. Yes, there are easier ways and improvements to the basic template concept. Yes, this is a very basic method and not suitable for very long documents or documents with significant repeating information (like discovery) but this does make an effective template. There are many ways to enhance a template to make it a truly useful tool.

Instead of spending time looking for your documents among old case files, then accidentally deleting documents or creating proofreading disasters with dates and pronouns, create a few templates to see just how easy it can be to use them.


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