Preparing for a WordPerfect-to-Word Conversion: A Few Considerations

August 26, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Note: This article first appeared in January of this year on the e-legaltechnology web site. Thanks to Richard des Moulins for publishing the article there. Please be sure to check out the site, which you can find here. There are links to other articles and white papers, job listings, information about legal IT-related events, and lots more.

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In my capacity as a software trainer, I have worked with at least two dozen law firms that have converted from WordPerfect to Word. Most of the conversions went fairly smoothly and could be considered successful overall, but a small number ended up being exercises in futility. Several staff members refused to adapt; they simply continued to use WordPerfect to perform most, if not all, of their word processing tasks.

What accounts for the difference between the firms that embraced the change and those that didn’t? To my thinking, preparation is the critical element. The organizations that experienced the greatest success in moving from WordPerfect to Word all engaged in a lengthy process of planning that took into account both the firm’s word processing needs and the work habits—as well as the wishes—of the support staff. Well in advance of the training, they performed a detailed assessment to try to figure out the tasks people perform every day and which WordPerfect templates, boilerplate text, macros, and similar items employees considered indispensable. They assigned one or two skilled staff members to consult with the trainer and set up comparable forms in Word.

Equally important, they took great care to ensure that the employees—and in particular, the legal secretaries—“bought in” to the transition. Getting key personnel to accept the change is essential if the conversion is to succeed in the long term. And it isn’t always easy. Legal secretaries—who, after all, have developed a certain proficiency in WordPerfect over many years that allows them to work quickly and efficiently—often balk at the idea of having to learn an entirely new way of doing things. Suddenly the features they use every day are in a completely different location, don’t work quite the same way, or don’t exist at all; familiar keystrokes cause their formatting to go completely haywire. Lacking Reveal Codes, they’re not sure how to perform troubleshooting. Unsurprisingly, they feel frustrated and anxious.

In many cases, they question the reasoning behind the change. “After all,” they think, “what we have now works great, it does the job and does it well, we’re used to it, and even our hands have memorized the routines involved. It ain’t broke, so why fix it? Why bring in something new and different just because other people are using it?”

This resistance is neither surprising nor illogical. It needs to be taken seriously and met with sympathy—and support. Instead, many firms take a somewhat heavy-handed approach, even going so far as to uninstall WordPerfect completely soon after moving to Word in order to force the staff to change over. That drastic step, in my view, is a mistake, and is unlikely to produce positive results. In fact, arbitrarily removing WordPerfect and flatly telling people they have to use Word regardless of the circumstances tends to create resentment, which in turn makes people less willing to invest time and energy in learning the new program.

By contrast, if staff members are consulted beforehand, and given meaningful opportunities to contribute to the planning sessions, they will have a significantly better attitude about the transition. And, in fact, they can help to make it go more smoothly; many of them will have very useful ideas about ways to automate documents.

Here are a few ways to bring the staff on board:

  1. Solicit their input ahead of time by asking them for a list of three to five features or “tricks” they depend on most heavily in formatting their documents in WordPerfect.
  2. Follow through on that input by tailoring the training—to the greatest extent possible—to their specific requests and by asking the trainer to provide lot of cheat sheets (as well as personal attention and “hand-holding”).
  3. Make sure that the cheat sheets and the training sessions incorporate instruction on keyboard shortcuts and ways to customize keyboards, toolbars, etc.
  4. Ask the trainer to start with a lesson on basic troubleshooting in Word. That will go a long way toward making people feel more comfortable with the program.
  5. Have the trainer point out lots of tips and tricks, as well as common “gotchas” and workarounds, which can save people a lot of frustration when they’re under time pressure.
  6. In the same vein, make sure the trainer shows the staff a few “cool” features of Word, such as SEQ codes for automatic numbering of discovery headings, exhibits, and the like. Coupled with Quick Parts (AutoText), this rather under-used feature allows users to insert (and increment the numbering in) discovery headings with a couple of keystrokes. It always produces an “Ooh!” reaction.
  7. Leave WordPerfect on at least a couple of the workstations, both to provide a “comfort factor” for the staff and also to enable them (a) to perform simple tasks that are easier in WP (such as quickly printing a couple of labels), as well as (b) to get their work out the door in an emergency situation (e.g., if a Word document becomes corrupted and they can’t fix it quickly enough to finalize the document under deadline pressure).
  8. Provide enough training and floor support, preferably over a period of a few weeks, to allow people to adjust to the change and to feel that they can accomplish most everyday tasks on their own. In general, secretaries and other staff members who do the most formatting will need more training than lawyers and paralegals, who typically give their documents to someone else for cleanup. (There are exceptions to this rule, of course.)
  9. Make sure to reinforce any initial training session(s)—at least for the secretaries—by scheduling a follow-up session two or three weeks later, after people have had a chance to practice. Between the two sessions, have the staff keep a running list of any specific questions or problems they’ve encountered.
  10. Both before and during the training, emphasize the benefits of using Word, including the fact that people will be able to exchange documents with other firms without the hassle (and potential risk of document corruption) involved in converting files between WordPerfect and Word.
  11. It’s essential to designate one staffer (ideally, a well-respected “power user”) to help set up forms and automation that are comparable—more or less—to what the employees have been using in WordPerfect. One of the smoothest conversions I’ve seen followed that path: The firm assigned a popular, highly knowledgeable person to go through all of the existing forms and methodically either bring them into Word or create new forms in Word from scratch. The secretaries were pleased that they could use nearly identical forms in Word, especially because we also automated the process of retrieving the forms.

If possible, hire a trainer who is fluent in both Word and WordPerfect and, preferably, who has worked in the legal field. Someone who has used both programs to format pleadings and other documents commonly produced by law firms gains instant credibility with the staff (“She understands how we work!”). Moreover, a trainer with that type of experience is in an ideal position to point out the most significant differences between the two word processing programs. And because she has wrestled with legal documents herself, she can explain clearly the best ways to perform a particular task in Word that people are accustomed to doing in WordPerfect (such as “suppressing” the page number on the first page of a pleading).

A few secretaries still might resist the change because Word just doesn’t behave the same way as WordPerfect and certain tasks are more tedious or time-consuming. While some people will never be happy about the transition, a good trainer can ease the way by helping the staff implement workarounds, if any exist.

When planning for a conversion, it’s critical to involve the firm’s IT people, too. At a minimum, the firm’s IT people and/or the managing partners likely will have to address the following items (particularly if the firm is moving to Word 2007 or Word 2010):

• Whether to have the staff use the new .docx format or save their documents in “Compatibility Mode”;

• Where and how to store global templates (pleading paper, letterhead, etc.) and other forms;

• How to transfer “AutoText” / “Quick Parts” and macros (if any) between computers;

• Whether to purchase add-ons such as Cross-Eyes by Levit & James (to emulate the Reveal Codes environment of WordPerfect);

• Whether to purchase a third-party metadata removal program, since Word’s native “Document Inspector” has a few inherent limitations (and make sure the trainer covers best practices for converting documents from WordPerfect to Word, avoiding / repairing document corruption, and dealing with metadata);

• Whether conversion filters have been installed to make it easier for users to convert their WordPerfect documents to Word (though complex docs typically don’t convert flawlessly);

• How to guard against macro viruses and how to chose among the somewhat confusing array of macro settings in Word Options in newer versions of the program (Trust Center, Trust Center Settings, Macro Settings).

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Although the steps outlined in this article won’t guarantee a painless move from WordPerfect to Word, they certainly will make the transition smoother. Again, the key is planning, plus a supportive attitude that recognizes the staff as the valued job partners they are and makes their day-to-day work easier.

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