Microsoft Word

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The JC pontificates about technology
An occasional series.

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“Track changes is the thief of joy.”[1]

—Theodore Roosevelt

Microsoft Word
/ˈmaɪkrəsɒft wɜːd/ (n.)

Word processing software that never quite managed to make automatic paragraph numbering intuitive to the meatware, but nonetheless sweeps all other office word-processing software before it.

Refuseniks may prefer Microsoft PowerPoint (if trained in middle management) or even Microsoft Excel (if accountancy) as a canvas for composing documents. But the days of purpose-built alternative word-processing software packages, like Lotus Notes, WordPerfect or even the admirable but, preternaturally doomed open-source OpenOffice are long gone. Google Docs might survive, but only because it purports to fill a very different need.

And, Google.

Legaltechbros have a baffling conviction that their prospective clients are not so utterly fused to Microsoft Word that they will abandon a 40 year vintage class-leading application in favour of a browser-based html editor ginned up over a weekend by some Romanian coder they found on UpWork.

Nor will it occur to them that, despite a market of of a billion users, only one paid-for word processing application has lasted. This ought, but doesn’t seem, to have real-world implications for their own legaltech startups, competing as each one does with literally hundreds of basically identical offerings. The Quickening is coming.

This is baffling but may reflect the fact, as noted below, most legaltechbro are themselves lapsed lawyers, and lapsed lawyers are not generally good ones, and not particularly good lawyers, as a class, tend to be the ones who are fundamentally ignorant of how powerful Microsoft Word is.

As to which:


Despite Word’s universality and longevity and their supposedly superior analytical powers, few legal eagles have the first clue how the devil Microsoft Word formatting works. They see the printed output of a document that looked all right to them on screen as some kind of ineffable magic — if it works — or the spurious ministrations of the capricious imp that inhabits their typewriter keyboard, when (as is inevitable) it does not.

It goes without saying that the more nuanced skills — multi-level list numbering, consistently applying pre-defined paragraph and character styles and effectively manipulating tables — are beyond all but the most space-aged legal brains.

But most legal eagles struggle with page breaks and tab stops, instead leaning on the space bar or return key and letting it coast out randomly into the middle of the page, or down until it runs off the bottom and onto a new page.

Will these people embrace ChatGPT-3?

Lawyers usually are quite good at using track changes, however. Lawyers love track changes. They wish you could do track changes on emails and text messages, and will take some pains to replicate track changes by formatting in red strikethrough and blue underlining.

Microsoft 365

Having shifted its model to software-as-a-service, Microsoft 365 has really embraced the networked world, integrated its suite into SharePoint and now nudges users to open documents by default in a crappy browser-based version of the application. This seems a faintly insane design choice: a bit like saying, “hey, cool, you have a licence for an Ferrari, but we’ll assume you just want a ridesharing zipcar unless you click here each time. Who nudges their customers away from a premium experience it costs nothing to give them?

By the way, Ferrari an apt metaphor for Microsoft Word:

  • It does a lot of things that seem cool but most people will never use or understand (Ferrari: going from 0-100 in 3 seconds, travelling at 275 km/h; Word: styles, macros, outline view),
  • It does a lot of things it isn’t nearly as good as it should be at (Ferrari: going over judder bars, parallel parking; Word: document comparison, multi-level numbering)
  • It does a lot of basic things that break down a lot and when they do are prohibitively difficult/expensive to fix (Ferrari: engine, electrics; Word: fields, bookmarks, multilevel numbering, outline-linked paragraph styles etc).

See also


  1. He may have said “comparison” but this is what he meant.