Breaking and associated brands will be offline for scheduled maintenance Friday Feb. 26 9 PM US EST to Saturday Feb. 27 6 AM EST. We apologize for the inconvenience.


Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
A conflict is raging toward war. It started out quietly, with only minor border skirmishes on the computers of law firms. The bloodshed appeared in different forms: numbered paragraphs with all the same number; 200-page contracts with all the “curly” quotes turned into “straight” quotes or “@”symbols. The far-reaching impact of this battle for control of word processing programs was at first understood only by a few at the highest levels of power and influence. Great legal minds and their assistants at the nation’s largest law firms and Fortune500 companies saw the dangers, as did the inner circle of attorneys and consultants. Those creators of documents that control industry, Wall Street and numerous financial futures realized the threat to their ability to get work out quickly and accurately. What was happening? Users of the long-revered Corel WordPerfect program found themselves in trouble when they tried to convert their documents to the increasingly popular Microsoft Word program. Most, if not all, law firms were early adopters of WordPerfect. A few years ago, color-coded plastic templates with codes for DOS version 5.1 adorned thousands of legal secretaries’ keyboards across the country. But as more businesses bought computers bundled with Microsoft software, Word became the de facto standard for business letters and memos. Unfortunately, it takes more than a simple click to convert a document produced in one program to the other. But why? One would hate to think that this is planned obsolescence (of a competitor) and that we are on the road to another antitrust battle. What should be a simple process to seamlessly shift from one format to another (if Adobe can do it with PDF files, why not Word?) has resulted in millions of wasted hours and dollars in training for separate “Betamax” and “VHS” versions of word processing formats. Conventional wisdom and industry folklore say that each program reflects a word processing philosophy that distinguishes one from the other. WordPerfect, we are told, is a true word processor in that it allows sophisticated formatting on a per document basis, allowing changes at isolated points in the document without adversely affecting the entire numbering, font or tab formatting scheme. It also allows you to “reveal” any offending formatting code to isolate the cause of a problem and remove it. In contrast, Word started out as a program more attuned to writing business letters than lengthy contracts and briefs. It relies heavily on “styles” that format on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis and can be much less user friendly or intuitive to midcourse corrections in numbering or inserting text. Unlike WordPerfect, Word does not expose itself to inquiries about its formatting as easily as WordPerfect. Word hides its format codes in markers at the end of each paragraph. WordPerfect devotees forced to use Word can be heard to cry out, “Pry my reveal codes from around my cold dead fingers” and “Friends don’t let friends word process without reveal codes.” And somewhere beyond the philosophical differences there are certainly questions over intellectual property rights, copyright and trademark infringement issues, as well as basic programming problems that would require significant revisions if one program were to suddenly change direction and follow the path of its counterpart. Meanwhile, there are legions of Word trainees that have learned much about styles and still arrive at a point in a document where it cannot be determined why a tab refuses to adjust or allow a change in numbering. Or why a beautifully formatted Word document e-mailed through the infamous “RTF” zone suddenly morphs into something de-formatted or at least unattractive when e-mailed to your best client. I interviewed a number of expert law firm word processors in hopes of finding a humorous anecdote to share. Their first comment was that “there is absolutely nothing funny about a WordPerfect to Word conversion!” They agreed to speak further only on condition of anonymity — fear of a Microsoft reprisal no doubt. They offered several excellent recommendations. First, if you expect a last-minute turnaround, you had better have a hard copy of your WordPerfect document in hand — it’s your only road map for disappearing bold, underline and other font styles lost during conversion. Second, if there are footnotes, expect to retype the entire text. Footnotes are routinely lost in the document equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle, never to be found. Unusual characters such as hyphens, quotes, apostrophes (try writing without them) always cause problems, and “small caps” can be the equivalent of a document conversion land mine, they said. As a result of this dilemma, strategists, think tanks and legal user (therapy) groups have sprouted since the mid-’90s in metropolitan centers such as New York and California. For a short history of the Manhattan firms’ experience see the comments at For lessons from a California legal users group check Word processing experts there share online their secrets and tips on how to convert and coordinate changes in Word documents, whether from WordPerfect or some other format, or even among battling styles (or different versions of Word) among Word users at the same firm. As Colleen Scheine, head of word processing at New York’s Cleary Gottlieb, said, these user groups are “80 percent tech support, 20 percent emotional support.” Among her duties: trying to get all the senior partners to agree on the same document “style.” Good luck and good night, Colleen. But the real question remains: Why with all of the programming talent available in the world has there not been a silver bullet to quickly fix all of this in either program? While several online firms such as Microsystems, which boasts the “conversion” of more than 300 law firms, have given due consideration to the conversion dilemma in training (try “Fixing Broken Word Documents” at, the answer seems so much simpler (and less expensive). Force the leading programmers from Word and WordPerfect to sign confidentiality and noncompete agreements and lock them together in a room until they come up with a solution that allows quick and easy conversion between their two products. That would allow a cease-fire between those who have spent years in the learning curve in WordPerfect or Word to draft in peace and harmony without crossing their fingers each time they communicate with someone from the opposite word processing camp. The real question is: If fast and dependable conversion had existed from WordPerfect version 5.1 on, would law firms ever have moved to Word? So, was the difficulty intentionally produced by Microsoft to force this mass migration, or was it a failure of WordPerfect to deal with the problem in its early stages? Either way it appears that we in the legal profession are fast approaching a one-word processing program world — without reveal codes. Scott Austin advises software development, e-commerce and high-technology companies as a partner in the Boca Raton, Fla., office of Adorno & Zeder. He can be reached at [email protected].

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.