Features - Why Microsoft Word is Not Ready for the Law Office: Looking Beyond Features to Quality

By Paul E. Merrell, Published on July 5, 2000

Paul E. Merrell is a lawyer in Eugene, Oregon and, in his words, "has  been using word processing software since the punched paper tape days." His E-Mail address is pem@televar.com

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Table1: Footnote and Endnote Bugs in Word 

Table 2: Bugs in Word File Converter   

Table 3: Word Bug Fix and Feature Limitation Lists 

With IBM's Lotus SmartSuite apparently heading for the bit bucket, only Corel's WordPerfect remains as a major competitor for Microsoft Word in the word processing market. Some clients are pushing their lawyers to install Word to reduce client costs in passing documents back and forth. The pressure is there, but is Word ready for the law office?

Each product cycle, computer magazines rate office software, but rarely go beyond a crude comparison of features. After many years of playing catch-up, Microsoft Word is close to matching Corel WordPerfect's major features in the standard office editions, while Corel maintains a comfortable market and feature lead in law offices with its WordPerfect legal editions. With the feature gap closing and client pressure to install Word, quality of software may quickly become the decisive factor in choosing between the two remaining heavyweight office suites.

Footnotes and endnotes are mission-critical features in many offices that must routinely produce legal briefs, correspondence, reports, books, and journal articles. Therefore, unresolved bugs in those features and related file conversion issues are an important consideration for offices looking at upgrading current word processing installations.

Both Microsoft's and Corel's products have bugs in their footnoting features when the footnotes are called from text in tables. Corel's online knowledge base shows only one footnote or endnote issue in WordPerfect for Windows itself, a bug found in WordPerfect 8.0 tables when a footnote call occurs in the portion of text continued from one page to the next in the same cell.

According to Microsoft, however, MS Word is incapable of correctly numbering footnotes called from tables. That has plagued MS Word from version 1.0 through 97 on the Windows platform, and Word for MacIntosh at least in version 6.x. See also next Word bug discussed below.

On the file conversion front, Corel's knowledge base lists only a single footnote/endnote bug, a problem in losing MS Word footnotes in tables when the footnote is in text extending beyond the bottom page margin. However, the cause of this WordPerfect file conversion issue appears to be that MS Word itself loses footnotes when formatting documents if the notes are called from text extending beyond the bottom margin. So apparently the damage is done before WordPerfect could become involved.

If problems with footnotes in tables were the only issues involved, many offices probably would not reject either Word or WordPerfect on that basis. Notes linked to tables are not ordinarily mission-critical in a law office.

However, Microsoft's Knowledge Base shows that Word suffers from a veritable plague of other footnote and endnote problems. All told, Microsoft itemizes some 38 serious issues with MS Office's footnote and endnote features or in converting WordPerfect files containing footnotes or endnotes. See the linked tables 1 and 2, respectively.

Those Word problems are not trivial. They range from loss of data to overprinting of footers, from footnotes appearing on the wrong page to formatting issues that violate court rules, fairly raising the question of whether law offices may lawfully use Word for court documents containing footnotes.

For example, the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently announced that it will no longer tolerate legal briefs generated with Microsoft Word that skip footnotes and endnotes when counting words in a document. DeSilva v. DiLeonardi, No.s 99-1754 and 99-1769 (7th Cir. July 21, 1999).

A few months later, Microsoft produced a downloadable macro to serve as a work-around. Nonetheless, Microsoft's suggested work-arounds for other footnoting problems appear to require violation of common court rules governing formatting of legal briefs, by altering footnote margins, type sizes, and line spacing. See e.g., Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure 32(a).

Disturbingly, the Microsoft articles suggesting those work-arounds give no warning that their use would violate court rules.

Footnote bugs have become even more complex to resolve because of recent changes in Microsoft's Knowledge Base procedures for Microsoft Office 2000. Now it is more difficult than ever to determine the persistence of bugs through Word's various versions. Before, Microsoft listed all versions known to be affected by a particular problem, typically accompanied by a notice that any changes in the situation would be noted in the same Knowledge Base article. Beginning with Word 2000, however, Microsoft is publishing new articles that do not mention the same problems' existence in prior versions, and the survival of the same bug in Word 2000 has not been added to the older articles. For that reason, it seems reasonable to suspect that bugs known to exist in older versions of the same code still persist until new information becomes available.

The linked tables attempt to consolidate information from all relevant articles. They should assist product reviewers in determining how persistent many of the problems are, so they may make informed judgments about the likelihood of bug fixes in later releases.

The information linked in the tables to Microsoft Knowledge Base articles demonstrates that in its race to catch up with WordPerfect's footnote and endnote features, Microsoft demonstrably sacrificed software quality. Moreover, many of the Microsoft articles referenced in the tables mention that the same bugs exist not only in footnotes and endnotes, but in other MS word "subdocuments" such as headers, footers, comments, call-outs, and annotations.

The fact that Microsoft has repaired exceedingly few known footnote and endnote bugs over the years despite knowing of their existence suggests that Word's software is either beyond repair or that Microsoft determines the need for software repair by the "squeaky wheel" principle, rather than by investigation of customers' actual needs.

Table 1: Footnote and Endnote Bugs in Word

(not involving file conversions from or to other developers' word processor formats)

Issue or Article Title Reference
2000(?), 1.0-6.0 98 (?), 3.0-6.0   1. Word does not search footnotes for certain codes when generating an index or table of contents. Microsoft Knowledge Base ("KB") article No. Q84723 ; see also topic 10.
2000(?), 1.0-7.0a 4.0-98   2. Removing separator from footnote or endnote leaves extra blank line. Microsoft KB article No. Q142460. But see Microsoft KB article No. Q142460 (no line spacing work-around mentioned as necessary in Word 2000)
2000     3. Footnotes are not displayed in web layout view. Microsoft KB article No. Q220179.
2000     4. Spelling/grammar not checked for custom footnote text. Microsoft KB article No. Q209616.
2000     5. Cannot paste or drag footnote or endnote to a text box. Microsoft KB article No. Q211487.
2000     6. "For each . . . next" loop gives wrong result with footnotes, endnotes, and comments (work-around given). Microsoft KB article No. Q212621.
2000, 6.0-7.0a 6.0-98   7. Footnote separator deleted from master document reappears (work-around suggested). Microsoft KB article No. Q138962; Microsoft KB article No. Q211740.
2000     8. Footnote command not available when document is protected or menus are customized. Microsoft KB article No. Q211333.
2000, 1.0-7.0a 6.0-98 5.0 9. Continuous section break between footnotes causes incorrect page break (work-around is to use endnotes rather than footnotes). Microsoft KB article No. Q94975; Microsoft KB article No. Q214203; Microsoft KB article No. Q76120; see also topics 24, 25.
2000, 97, 6.0-7.0a     10. Word count excludes words in footnotes, endnotes, and text boxes (workaround macro later made available for Word 2000 only) (April 1, 2000 update: now available for Word 97 too) Microsoft KB article No. Q164956; DeSilva v. DiLeonardi, No's. 99-1754 and 99-1769 (7th Cir. July 21, 1999); Microsoft KB article No. Q241333; Microsoft Word 2000 Update Site
2000, 97, 2.0-7.0a 6.0-98   11. Footnote moved to next page (workaround given). Microsoft KB article No. Q118586; Microsoft KB article No. Q196720; Microsoft KB article No. Q201130.
2000     12. Footnotes moved to end of page when converting from Word document format to web page format. Microsoft KB article No. Q212270.
6.0a, 6.0c     13. Internet Assistant 1: Word HTML converter does not convert footnotes. Microsoft KB article No. Q126793.
6.0-97 6.0-98   14. Footnotes, endnotes disappear in cross-reference dialog box. Microsoft KB article No. Q153978.
6.0-97 6.0-98   15. Cannot go to bookmark in footnote or other subdocument. Microsoft KB article No. Q105885.
6.0-6.0c 6.0-6.0.1   16. Custom footnote references disappear after spell check. Microsoft KB article No. Q146242.
6.0-7.0a 6.0-6.0.1a   17. Language format change is not applied to footnotes and endnotes, other subdocuments. Microsoft KB article No. Q193594.
6.0-7.0a     18. Edits in subdocument footnotes not saved when in master document view, even when save is indicated (reported as fixed in Word 97). Microsoft KB article No. Q142409.
6.0-7.0a 5.0-6.0.1   19. Word endnotes and beneath-text footnotes converted to Office Document Architecture are converted to bottom-of-page footnotes. Microsoft KB article No. Q114798.
6.0-7.0a 5.0-6.01   20. Converting or opening WordWin document into WordMac document merges all footnotes and endnotes into one continuous stream. Microsoft KB article No. Q114798; see also topic 29.
6.0-7.0a 6.0-6.0.1a   21. Form field does not function in footnote or endnote. Microsoft KB article No. Q110342.
6.0-7.0a 6.0-6.0.1a   22. Word displays field results as deleted and reinserted, including footnotes, if document revision feature is turned on. Microsoft KB article No. Q110173; see also topics 26, 27.
6.0-7.0a 6.0-98   23. Footnotes and endnotes inserted in Picture Editor may not appear in actual document. Microsoft KB article No. Q110322.
6.0     24. Long endnote continuation separator used with exactly one page of text is positioned on next page. Microsoft KB article No. Q106654; see also topics 9, 25.
6.0-7.0a 6.0-98   25. Footnote text displayed, printed on top of footer. Microsoft KB article No. Q158625; see also topics 9, 24.
6.0     26. Annotations, endnotes, and footnotes keep revision marks when copied to new document. Microsoft KB article No. Q106046.asp; see also topics 22, 27.
2.0-6.0c     27. Footnotes and endnotes are not renumbered with revision marks on. Microsoft KB article No. Q106072; see also topics 22, 26.
2.0-2.0c, 6.0-6.0c     28. Footnotes, headers, and footers are lost when frame extends beyond bottom margin. (1) (Back to article text.) Microsoft KB article No. Q78145.
2.0     29. Converting or opening Word 6 document into Word 2 merges all footnotes and endnotes into one continuous stream. Microsoft KB article No. Q108248; see also topic 20.
1.0-97 4.0-98   30. Attempted deletion of footnote number or paragraph mark separating footnotes produces error message. Microsoft KB article No. Q35599.
1.0-97 6.0-6.0.1a   31. Footnote references to right and above existing reference in Word tables cause renumbering of existing reference (described as feature rather than bug) . (Back to article text.) Microsoft KB article No. Q193191.asp; see also Microsoft KB article No. Q65849.
1.0-2.0c, 6.0-6.0a     32. Footnotes and other data are omitted when printing selected text. Microsoft KB article No. Q97663.
    4.0-6.0 33. Word fails to maintain space between footnotes and text (work-arounds given, including omitting footnote). Microsoft KB article No. Q74786.
    3.0-6.0 34. Word does not number footnotes continuously across divisions, causing footnotes to renumber beginning at one (work-arounds given). Microsoft KB article No. Q81447.

1. This Word bug is probably responsible for a problem with WordPerfect 7.0's file conversion filter noted at Corel KB article No. 12439. If so, the Word bug persisted at least into Word 7.0, where Corel noted the problem converting Word footnotes to WordPerfect.

Table 2 : Bugs in Word File Converter
Issue or Article Title Reference
6.x     35. WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS, and 5.1 and 5.2 for Windows endnote numbers are not converted correctly (reported as fixed in Word 7.0 and later). Microsoft KB article No. Q113050.
6.0-7.x     36. WordPerfect 6.x import converter for Word 6.x/7.0 converts custom footnote marks to automatic numbered marks; if numbering format of notes is changed in a document, the notes numbered with the new format convert as custom notes. Microsoft KB article No. Q130199; Microsoft KB article No. Q131040.
6.0, 6.0a     37. Endnote styles are not applied to converted WordPerfect endnote references and text. Microsoft KB article No. Q113055.
6.0, 6.0a     38. First converted WordPerfect endnote text cannot be edited in Word (work-around given). Microsoft KB article No. Q113049.


Table 3: Word Bug Fix and Feature Limitation Lists

Research aids

Issue or Article Title Reference
2000     39. Limitations of converting WordPerfect 5.x documents. Microsoft KB article No. Q240854.
2000     40. Word compatibility options described. Microsoft KB article No. Q193266.
97     41. Microsoft's main list of WordPerfect 6/7/8 formatting commands that either do not convert because Office 97 has no comparable feature or that convert imperfectly. Microsoft KB article No. Q157089.
6.x     42. WordPerfect 5.x converter enhancements in 6.x kit release. Microsoft KB article No. Q132256.
6.x     43. WordPerfect 5.x converter enhancements in WordWin 6.0c. Microsoft KB article No. Q120462.
6.0     44. WordPerfect 5.x converter enhancements in Word for Windows 6.0. Microsoft KB article No. Q105316.asp.

Reader Comments

From:  M. Schaefer
Your article "Why Microsoft Word Is Not Ready for the Law Office:"

I think it is good of you to do MS bashing from time to time it’s the only
way to keep them honest. However, I disagree with the MOOD of your article
by Mr. Merrell. It is obviously taken on a negative approach from a WP
user. WordPerfect has as many short falls if not more when the point of
view is coming from a Word user. I'm in an office where the software is
mandated by the local government, meaning it wasn't necessarily the best
pick but the cheapest. I often see users blast Microsoft's Word when they
have no clue what they are trying to accomplish. I’m sure Mr. Merrell has
researched his findings for those are some serious bugs that do an injustice
when converting between the two programs. Reality is: we’ll have to live
with it. The use of software is dictated by the user not the company that
they work for. I have many attorneys who have their WordPerfect on their
desktops in the office yet use Word when they are at home. Which of the two
pieces of Software do you think gets used more by the attorney? Considering
the attorney has a legal staff that does most of their day-to-day typing I’d
say it was MS Word. I work for the Information System of our office, I see
more and more requests for file conversions from Word to WordPerfect on a
daily basis. I welcome articles reflecting a comparison between the two
programs but bashing one while glorifying the other is not the way to go
about it. Microsoft and Corel do not have a close working relationship,
until that happens you will not see WordPerfect packaged with the OFFICE
SUITE and vice versa.

From: John L. Mellitz
Subject: Why Microsoft Word Is Not Ready for the Law Office:
Date:  July 17, 2000

Having read your article and M. Schaefer's comments I'd like to contribute my $.02.

First, I am a WordPerfect user and advocate. I am also a Microsoft Word basher.

Second, I am an independent legal technology consultant, and as such, people count on my recommendations being as objective as possible.

Third, although I am not the ultimate power user of word processing software, I am a nut for proper formatting. Accordingly, I feel qualified to speak from experience having used, (or tried to use), both products.

M. Shaefer says, "I have many attorneys who have their WordPerfect on their desktops in the office yet use Word when they are at home. Which of the two pieces of Software do you think gets used more by the attorney? Considering the attorney has a legal staff that does most of their day-to-day typing I’d say it was MS Word."

I'm afraid I must agree with M. Schaefer in this regard. I have noticed that many attorneys find MS-Word easier to use than WordPefect because of the "clean screen" presented by Word. At the office, they may see the "Reveal Codes" frame on their secretary's computer and conclude that the product is entirely too complicated for them. (Remember the famous "clean blue screen" of WordPerfect 4.x and 5.x for DOS? It, along with the free tech support, defined the product and garnered the huge market share.)

At the same time, most attorneys are very conservative and tend to "follow the herd," misplacing their confidence in the instincts of the herd. "The herd goes for Word."

Ultimately, one must define the use to which a word processing program will be put. In the hands of an attorney, all that is required is a vehicle for putting text on screen/paper in order to record his or her thoughts and ruminations. Apart from simple letters, the output of their word processors is intended for internal use only. It is the secretary who must assemble those thoughts and ruminations into a document fit for public consumption, and this is where the "break" occurs.

Word is based on Styles. I know what styles are, and I use them when necessary. However, when it comes to editing text formatted with styles, I am at a loss as to where to focus my attention or direct my efforts. Even avid Word users acknowledge that SERIOUS, DETAILED editing and formatting is somewhat challenging in Word . . . and that is exactly what secretaries do . . . all day long. Is it any wonder that most secretaries prefer WordPerfect over Word?

Those that prefer Word often are responsible only for producing correspondence . . . seldom a brief, table, outline, footnotes, table of contents, etc. Fixed margins and simple indented paragraphs are a snap with Word. However, editing a paragraph with multiple typefaces, emphasis, tab changes, and automatic first line indents is another matter.

There are a few major exceptions to the above observation. One is the publishing industry. Styles are second nature to newspaper publishers. Another would be a ANY office that has developed customized style libraries for their particular types of documents, AND have adequately trained their staff in how and when to invoke the various styles. Styles CAN get the job done, but at the cost of flexibility.

A third exception would be those users who prefer to edit and format "blocks" of text, as opposed to those who prefer a "linear" method of editing. [I have difficulty conceiving why anyone would prefer to "guess" how to effect a change rather than "see" where the change must be made.]

Bottom line: From a document production point of view, attorneys and secretaries/power users, have strikingly different needs. For the latter, WordPerfect's Reveal Codes feature is a godsend. It allows the ultimate control . . . character-by-character, code-by-code. To take advantage of this benefit one must either get formal training, or spend a significant amount of time investigating and experimenting with the program -- something attorneys have neither the time nor inclination to do.

Switching to another aspect of your article -- the specific shortcomings of MS-Word in a legal environment -- I'd like to mention just one of several other Word shortcomings that have frustrated me: "Shrink-to-fit" vs. "Make it fit."

The user has almost no control over this extremely useful and important feature. If the word user wants to reduce the length of a document that places the last two lines of the closing on the second page, he or she will probably end up with a document in teenie weenie type that takes up just 2/3 of a page. Word relies almost exclusively on font size to get a document to fit within the boundaries specified by the user. I'm not sure, but I believe changing margins is the resonsibility of the user, as is changing the leading, (spacing). WordPerfect lists all of the elements of the document that it alters to "Make it fit," and the user has the option of constraining the alteration of one or more of those elements.

To me, this feature defines the difference between the two programs from a secretary/power user point of view. In a word: "Quality." Whether Microsoft can't or won't modify its code to match WordPerfect's capability is unknown.

If they CAN'T, then the entire foundation on which the program is built is antiquated, defective, inadequate, inappropriate, or all of the above.

If they WON'T, then one can only conclude that Microsoft has elected to allocate its resources to other projects . . . finding that the attention to detail would not be profitable.

If I had the time and the ability, or if I were independently wealthy, I would love to compare the two products feature by feature, describe in detail how each executes those features, and point out where one can do something that the other cannot. I would leave it up to the reader to determine which is preferable, based on the features he or she uses, and the weight attributed to the respective features.

In a separate article, I would like to see opinions rendered by panels of experts from different disciplines who have investigated the differences pointed out in the article.

I have no doubt that MS-Word would prevail in many cases, but it would be interesting to find out if there is a pattern that validates my hypothesis that one is more suitable for power users and the other is more suitable for casual, occasional, and less demanding users.

John L. ("Tim") Mellitz
dba Mellitz & Associates
Independent Legal Technology Consultants
Timeslips Certified Consultant
Time Matters Authorized Independent ConsultantEmail: jmellitz@mellitzconsulting.com

From:  Michael Bednarek
Subject: Why MS Word Is Not Ready for the Law Office (P. Merrell)
Date:  July 16, 2000
M. Schaefer commented:
>I have many attorneys who have their WordPerfect on
>their desktops in the office yet use Word when they
>are at home. Which of the two pieces of Software do
>you think gets used more by the attorney? Considering
>the attorney has a legal staff that does most of
>their day-to-day typing I’d say it was MS Word.

Doesn't that prove exactly the point of Paul's article?
If you need a wordprocessor that any dunce can use: take MS Word. If you earn your living turning out documents - any documents, not just legal -: take WP.

Michael Bednarek, Computer Support, Grafton Base Hospital
Arthur St, Grafton 2460, Australia. "POST NO BILLS"