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We frequently write about “electronic spreadsheets,” a necessary tool in our practice ever since the late 1970s and a part of every office suite we’ve ever seen. If you own Microsoft Office, you have a copy of Microsoft Excel; Corel’s Office Suite comes with Quattro Pro, and Lotus Office Suite owners get Lotus 1-2-3. Each program works well and has enough features to perform a wide variety of basic law-office operations. We often assume that all of our readers know what an electronic spreadsheet can do. Alas, we know a lot of lawyers who have an electronic spreadsheet available, but who never bother to take advantage of the program’s vast capability. This week, for our readers who think that electronic spreadsheets are too hard to use, we’ll explain electronic spreadsheets, from A1 to IV65536. AN ACCOUNTANT’S WORKSHEET If you’ve never used an electronic spreadsheet, we suggest that you read the rest of this column with an electronic spreadsheet running. Look under the link for the office suite on your computer. An electronic spreadsheet is an analog of an accountant’s worksheet, with ruled columns going across and rows going down the page. By historical custom columns are identified by letters, the first column designated as A, the 53rd column (the beginning of the third time through the 26-letter alphabet) as CA, and the 255th, and usually last, column as IV. Rows are designated by number, from 1 through 65536 for the latest versions of Excel and 1-2-3 and 1000000 for the latest version of Quattro Pro. A cell, the rectangular place in which you write numbers or names, is named as the intersection of the cell’s column and row. The cell in the upper left hand corner of the spreadsheet display is A1, and the cell in the lower right is IV65536 in Excel and 1-2-3 and IV1000000 in Quattro Pro. Although Quattro Pro seems more powerful because a Quattro Pro user can fill 255,000,000 cells while users of the others have only 16,711,680 cells, we seldom use more than a couple of thousand cells in a particular application, and some of our most useful work has been done with a few hundred cells. Besides, most computers can’t deal with information in millions of cells, anyhow. If the limited space in Excel and 1-2-3 becomes a problem, all three programs support multiple pages which can be related together, in which each cell is identified not only by its column letter and row number, but also by its sheet number. BASIC FUNCTIONS If you want to analyze a set of numbers and know enough about the problem to write the numbers down on a piece of paper, and if you know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, you can put an electronic spreadsheet to good advantage. Consider a list of numbers you have written on a worksheet. To get a total, you then must enter the numbers into a calculator or adding machine one by one in “add” mode. If you’ve made a mistake, or the total doesn’t cross foot, you probably have to do it over again. Here’s how to do it on an electronic spreadsheet. Don’t bother to write the numbers on paper. Move the computer’s cursor to a particular cell and enter one of three things into it: text of some sort, commonly known as a label, a number or a formula. Labels and numbers are obvious; a formula placed into cell A3 can be something simple like “A1+A2″ (which means to take the numeric value in cell A1 and add it to the numeric value in cell A2 and place that sum into Cell A3) or something more complex using one or more of the program’s built-in formulae. Entering “Sum B1:B30″ into cell C1, for example, would mean to add the values of the contents of cell B1, cell B2, cell B3 and all the way down to cell B30 and place that sum into cell C1. If the numbers placed into B1 through B30 represent the firm’s deposits each day over the last two months, rents to be received from each of the 50 tenants in a client’s shopping center, yesterday’s billable hours tallied by the firm’s 50 attorneys or whatever else might be of interest, Cell C1 will now display that total. If you find a mistake was made when entering a number in cell B11, simply change the number in B11, and the total in C1 will immediately change. Cells A1 through A50 can contain labels showing the date, tenant or attorney relating to the number entered opposite that name in Column B. Thus A27 would refer to the value in B27 and be marked October 7, Smith Apparel, or BDB, depending on the application. When you’re finished, you can print the list and the total and save the whole thing to disk. But that list may not be numbers to be added. If the formula in C1 is “@AVG(B1:B30)” the value in C1 might be the mean average grade on the test you gave to your graduate tax students last week. If the formula is “@NPV(.07, B1:B30),” the value in C1 could be the net present value of the annual payments to be made on a proposed structured settlement discounted at an annual interest rate of 7 percent. As each of these electronic spreadsheets also graph series of numbers, if the list represents the closing price of that high-tech stock you are following at the end of each of the last 30 days, it takes only a couple of clicks to convert the list to a line chart or histogram bar chart to display, in graphic form, what you already knew: the day of the dot-com may have come and gone. If you are concerned about your 10 stock portfolio, it doesn’t take long to put the names of the various stocks in column A, the number of shares you own in corresponding cells in column B, and a formula “(A2*B2),” representing the market value of the shares you own, in column C. If corresponding cells of column D represents your basis in the stock, each cell in column E can hold a formula like “(C2 – D2),” column E represents your gain or loss on the particular stock. (Losses, depending on your whim, can be shown after a minus sign, in parentheses, or in red.) Of course, it is possible to set cells C12, D12 and E12 to automatically add C1 to C10, D1 to D10 and E1 to E10, to reflect the current value, basis and net gain or loss, respectively, for your entire portfolio on the day in question. Save your file and tomorrow you can change the closing price numbers, leaving everything else the same. Your electronic spreadsheet program will automatically recalculate to take the new figures into account and immediately give you the new bottom line. If you prefer to keep each day’s figures, simply save the new figures under a new name. The possibilities are endless. If you are an estate planner, if you do tax work, if you are in real estate, the benefits of an electronic spreadsheet are obvious. If you spend your time on mergers and acquisitions or in anti-trust, entertainment law, family law or any other area of the profession, you’ll find useful applications. And it really isn’t difficult. Barry D. Bayer practices law and writes about computers from his office in Homewood, Ill. You may send comments or questions to his e-mail address [email protected]or write c/o Law Office Technology Review, P.O. Box 2577, Homewood, Ill. 60430.

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