Thinking About Converting from WordPerfect to Word (Or Finally Stop Using Both WordPerfect and Word)?

Thinking About Converting from WordPerfect to Word?

By Barron K. Henley, Esq.

Why Not Just Use Both? Unfortunately, Corel WordPerfect (“WP”) and Microsoft Word (“Word”) files are fundamentally incompatible with each other. WP can obviously save to Word or RTF format; and Word can open/convert WP documents. However, with anything more complex than a letter, either method butchers the formatting, and creates many types of digital baggage and structural defects in the resulting files. 

These defects make the files difficult to edit, unstable, and the formatting will frequently go off the rails. Since nearly all new documents are created by using an existing document as a template, using two incompatible file formats makes this process more difficult. In most offices where both programs are in use, there are factions of users which prefer one over the other and use their preferred application predominantly.

As a result, the firm never ends up standardizing on one thing; and when it comes to the use and mastery your word processor, it makes sense to standardize on one platform. If this is done, any file can safely be used as a template. Users can share knowledge with one another about how to perform certain tasks within the standard application, and templates can be built which are shared and used by everyone.

Why Switch to Word if WP Is Working Fine? First, let’s be clear that there’s nothing wrong with WP. Law firms aren’t switching from WP to Word because of functional inadequacies. They’re switching for other business reasons.

First, WP’s market share has shrunk to almost nothing in the legal world whereas Word dominates. According to the American Bar Association Legal Technology Survey, 98% of law firms use Word. So if you want to trade documents easily with clients and other law firms, Word is the language you need to be speaking.

Second, due to the small market, many 3rd party programs that integrate with word processors have dropped support for WordPerfect. For example, in the document automation world, none of the leading players still integrate with WP. Legal case management applications have dropped WP support (although 100% of them integrate with Word). PDF programs like Adobe Acrobat also don’t have integrations with WP although they all have integrations with Word. Law offices obviously want their technology stack to work together, and using WP makes that difficult or impossible in some circumstances.

Third, if you hire someone younger than 40 years old, it’s unlikely they’ve ever used WP and you’re going to have a training burden to get them up to speed. What you find logical and intuitive about WP because you’ve used it for years is likely to be confusing and perplexing to someone who has only ever used Word. There are other reasons law offices switch, but the foregoing are the big three.

Isn’t WP Better for Legal Drafting Than Word? In short, the answer is no. One can argue that Corel cares more about the legal market than Microsoft and I wouldn’t disagree. The legal market is likely the last demographic where WP has a foothold, so it’s not surprising that Corel might care about it a bit more than Microsoft. However, as an expert in both WP and Word, I can tell you for certain that neither possesses some killer function that makes it superior overall to the other (and that includes Word’s absence of the reveal codes feature – more on that below). WP handles some things easier/faster than Word and vice versa. If someone is more familiar with WP than Word, then it’s not surprising that they may have a preference for it. However, familiarity does not equal superiority.

If you believe that Word can’t do something you need it to do, I’m happy to schedule a web meeting with all of your stakeholders to demonstrate its capabilities. I assume it’s possible that a WP user might identify some WP formatting feat that Word cannot duplicate, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Ingredients For A Successful Standardization on Word: A successful switch requires two things: 1) hands-on training for everyone specifically designed to help WP users understand Word's new/different formatting approach; and 2) templates and starting-point documents people use in WP must be properly converted over to Word. I have much more to say about both of these requirements below.

Training Should Be Hands-On: By hands-on, I mean that it’s mandatory for training attendees to follow along with the exercises on their own computer and not just sit and watch an instructor demonstrate the skills they need to acquire. Students need to test their understanding (by trying what they’re learning), and be able to ask questions if they get stuck. Thus, pre-recorded videos for this kind of technical training are not optimal. In fact, I would argue that making people sit and watch pre-recorded training videos is a waste of your money and their time.

Another issue is that different practice areas present different word processing issues. For example, a revocable trust raises very different formatting issues than an appellate brief. Further, if you’re in a jurisdiction like Arizona where the text of the pleadings has to align with line numbers in the left margin, you’ve got a whole additional set of issues compared to pleadings which don’t require line numbers. In the perfect world, your hands-on training also incorporates some of your office’s documents into the training for maximum relevance.

Finally, Word is a completely different language from WordPerfect, and it’s not learnable in 2 hours. Expect to invest a minimum of 12 hours of training for all attendees in total, although you should insist on no training segment being longer than 3 consecutive hours, and ideally each segment should be 1 to 1.5 hours (which is easily done if the training is delivered live, but via webinar).

After the training, it’s also important that attendees immediately start putting what they learned into use; and the best way to do that is to start converting WP files and making templates. That process will also require some coaching as they work through the steps of building Word documents correctly.

Should Training Be On-Site or Live Webinars? Although I personally prefer teaching in person over webinars, there are pros and cons to each method. Live, web-based training is less expensive since you avoid travel costs and it’s easier to spread out over days and weeks for easier consumption. Attendees can still ask questions and the training can be customized for your office. If attendees only have one monitor, then it’s going to be difficult for them to see the instructor’s screen and work on document exercises at the same time.

On-site training is more expensive, but it’s also much more interactive and communication is a lot better between students and the instructor. In my long experience, attendees are much less likely to ask questions or indicate when they’re stuck in a web-based training program (compared to on-site). If an attendee does say they’re having difficulty with an exercise during a webinar, it's often time-consuming and potentially embarrassing for the attendee to share their screen so the instructor can see what is going on and explain how to resolve the issue. With on-site training, attendees tend to ask a lot more questions. Even if they remain silent, it’s easy to tell if someone is stuck by their facial expressions and body language.

Further, it’s much easier to provide assistance when the instructor is in the same room (compared to screen sharing in a web meeting). The difficulty with on-site training is avoiding training segments of longer than 3 hours at a time. The only way to avoid that is to divide attendees into groups and run each group through the same training over the space of several days. Naturally, running 2 groups through the training will take more time (and therefore cost more) than running 1 group through the training as you could do with webinars.

The Training Should Be Recorded: If you’re going to invest in training, then the training should be recorded and the videos given to you for future use. The videos can be used for refresh training, reference, and new employee training.

How Training Can Be Designed Specifically For WP Users: I’m good at some things, but I’m definitely not very good at learning new languages. When I took Spanish language classes back in the day, I drew a lot of comfort from the similarities between Spanish and English. I didn’t have to be a language genius to know that tecnología probably translates to technology, or that conversión translates to conversion. Similarly, WP users learning Word can draw comfort in the similarities between them (and there are many). Therefore, effective Word training shouldn’t ignore what attendees already know about WP. In fact, it should capitalize upon it. For example, WP has a feature called Block Protect which holds paragraphs together and thereby avoids awkward page breaks (for example, leaving a heading at the bottom of a page and the corresponding paragraph at the top of the next page). Word's parallel feature (called Keep With Next) can be explained in the context of how WP's feature works. They do the same things, but are applied in a slightly different way. In my opinion, WP can and should be used during WP to Word training so attendees can see the difference in application to get to the same formatting result.

Why Word Does Not Have a Reveal Codes Feature: This is another issue that should be addressed directly in training because nearly every WP user wonders about it. WP aficionados learning Word need to know why there’s no reveal codes feature because it goes to one of the biggest structural differences between WP and Word. Ultimately, Word doesn’t have reveal codes because there are simply no codes to reveal. It can’t show you what isn’t there. Word’s philosophical and architectural approach to formatting text is simply different than WP’s approach. It doesn’t mean either one is inferior to the other – they’re just different.

A big reason for the difference is the use of a feature both WP and Word possess called styles. In WP, styles are optional and in my experience almost no WP users have ever used them. If you’re curious about styles in WP, open WP and hit Alt+F8, or click the Format menu and you’ll see Styles… at the bottom of it. The big difference with Word is that the usage of styles is not discretionary. Every paragraph of every Word document ever created has a style applied to it (usually without the user’s knowledge or consent), although nothing about Word’s interface makes this clear.

Further, Word’s styles functionality cannot be disabled or turned off. If you use Word at all, you’re necessarily using styles although you’re probably not using them to your advantage (as they should be used). At the end of the day, either you learn to control Word’s styles or they will control you (and I promise you won’t like it).

What Does “Proper” Conversion from WordPerfect to Word Mean? The only way to properly convert a WP document to Word is to create a blank new Word document, copy and paste the text from the WP document into it with no formatting (edit > paste unformatted text in WP parlance), then rebuild the formatting in Word to match the original WP document (using styles all the way). To convert by any other method is simply not worth the risk (see the previous discussion about conversion defects) and I guarantee that you will become frustrated trying to work with documents that were converted via WP or Word’s conversion tools. The point is that moving a file from a .wpt to a .docx extension is in no way a proper conversion.

Finally, and this is a bold statement, but most Word users have never used a Word document which was properly constructed using styles the way styles are supposed to be used. This is because Word hides 80% of what you need to know to correctly set up and apply the formatting in a document. So it’s not anyone’s fault that they haven’t discovered the correct protocol because the tools and techniques they need to use are concealed. The steps for a conversion aren’t complicated, but there are many of them. And here’s the kicker – it is virtually impossible for someone clicking around in Word to discover the steps, or find them on the internet (yes, some things are not discoverable with a Google search!).

I often hear push-back on this point from law firms. But in almost all cases, every file the firm tried to convert in-house has to be re-built because it was done incorrectly. We’ve seen this play out many times. First the firm tries to convert WP files without knowing the process (because how hard can it be, right?). The resulting files are a disaster to work with, and not surprisingly, users of those files can’t get the formatting to obey. As a result, the WP users being forced to use Word against their will blame Word for the frustration they’re experiencing when really it was the badly converted files that are to blame. They’ll claim that Word is preventing them from getting their work done, and the animosity toward Word will grow and can become toxic. To avoid this spiral, it’s imperative that the conversions are done correctly.

The foregoing doesn’t mean that the conversion technique isn’t learnable; and after it’s learned, any document, regardless of formatting complexity, can be conquered and made to look exactly the way you want, and respond to editing exactly the way you would hope. In my experience, most Word users can’t imagine a world where they weren’t constantly wrestling with Word’s formatting; but that world exists. It just requires a bit of instruction to get there.  

The Sad State of Word Processor Usage in Legal: Unfortunately, WP and Word are almost always used like blunt instruments. The text is bludgeoned into submission using incorrect techniques which makes the resulting documents difficult to edit, format, and control. For example, I was reviewing a WP document from a firm that wanted WP to Word conversion training (it was a revocable trust). In the WP file, every paragraph number was typed rather than being automatic. Vertical space (blank lines) between paragraphs were created with unnecessary hard returns rather than WP’s superior auto paragraph spacing; tabs were used when indents would have been much better; cross references were typed so they didn’t update, WP’s Block Protect feature wasn’t used which allowed many awkward page breaks to separate titles from subsequent paragraphs. The document was essentially chiseled out of a stone tablet; and for all of the WP functionality the firm was using, they may as well have been using WordPad (Microsoft’s free word processor which has been included with every operating system since Windows 95).

The situation I just described is completely normal in both WP and Word. However, that’s most definitely not where you want to end up. The objective should be to significantly raise the bar and learn to use Word on a higher level than WP was being used. The downside to this objective is that if people were using WP like a typewriter, they’re going to think Word is way more complicated when it actually isn’t. This fact should be explained to all attendees up front. If your firm is using WP or Word like a typewriter, then that just means that editing and overall document generation is taking much longer than it should (which only costs your firm money).

You’re also introducing a margin for error that shouldn’t be present in your drafting protocol. For example, I review documents often wherein paragraph numbers are skipped (because they weren’t automatic), cross-references are pointing to wrong paragraphs or paragraphs which don’t even exist in the document, and typed tables of contents and authorities have incorrect page number references (because they were typed rather than being automatic).

The End Game: By learning to take full advantage of Word’s functionality and higher-end features, your firm can convert from WP to Word and become more efficient at generating complex documents in the process. If your users learn to capitalize on all that Word offers, you’ll be ahead of most of your competitors (most firms that have always used Word still barely scratch the surface of it), and it will positively impact your bottom line.

What are your thoughts? What has been your experience? Feel free to contact me with comments or questions!

Barron K. Henley, Esq.

Affinity Consulting Group

office 614.602.5561

Columbus, Ohio


Barron Henley

Written by Barron Henley

Barron is an Affinity Partner and an attorney who has over 20 years of experience in legal technology and law firm consulting. Barron partners with our clients to make law firms and legal departments more efficient. His breadth of knowledge enables him to dive into the details of a firm’s operations. He is often the lead on Comprehensive Practice Analysis projects for clients that examine all aspects of making a firm more successful: technology, organizational design, process optimization and financial practices. In addition, Barron has been building complex legal document automation projects since he left his private law practice in 1997. He is also one of the most renowned experts on Microsoft Word, Adobe Acrobat and HotDocs and a frequent speaker, teaching CLE classes covering practice management, document management, case management, Word, Excel, Outlook, HotDocs document assembly, among many other topics.

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