Why do so many laywers use WordPerfect?
July 17, 2008 6:34 AM   Subscribe

Why have so many laywers stayed with WordPerfect?

In most of the industries I work with, Word has become the standard word processor of choice. The notable exception is the legal profession. For some reason, it seems as though lawyers as a group have held onto WordPerfect. Is there some formatting trick that makes WordPerfect better for legal work? Is it just a resistance to change?
posted by Karmakaze to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I had heard that it had something to do with the way that it is easy to "reveal codes" and make sure that the resulting document doesn't have strange hidden areas.

I could be completely wrong.
posted by gregvr at 6:43 AM on July 17, 2008

Best answer: WordPerfect has held on to the extent it has (and I think you overstate that extent, based upon the prevalence of Word documents I get from law firms) because in principle one never sits down to draft an agreement or pleading from a clean sheet of paper. You always start with a "model" (a past agreement or pleading) and adopt it. This can perpetuate documents, and their word processing file formats, in an evolutionary form for literally decades.

Legal documents can be pretty elaborately formatted, and importing a WordPerfect document into Word can often be murder on the formatting. To do it with a library of hundreds of thousands of precedent documents is pretty hairy...
posted by MattD at 6:52 AM on July 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

We use Word, and almost every large law firm I deal with uses either Word, or both.

Having said that, I worked as a legal secretary back when we still had the Dos version of word perfect, and it rocked, partly because of the easy reveal codes. Word often tries too hard to help you do stuff. The firm was hugely resistant to windows, let alone a switch to Word.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:54 AM on July 17, 2008

I'd heard (from that ol' reliable source, the Internet) that it had all to do with being able to read all the old documents written under previous versions of WordPerfect. In effect, WordPerfect is a "frozen accident": it got mindshare amongst lawyers early on and then could not be replaced. This raises the question of why another system that reads old WP docs wouldn't do just as well - my Word2004 doesn't show any WP converters, but I have a memory of there being some. Perhaps "conversion" would be distrusted for legal documents.
posted by outlier at 6:55 AM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I really miss the reveal codes function in WordPerfect, myself.
posted by nax at 6:56 AM on July 17, 2008 [7 favorites]

There are also some judges who require lawyers to submit copies of proposed orders / findings in WordPerfect format (since that's what the judge uses). I think this factor helps keep WP entrenched in some pockets of the legal community -- because really, why would you want to make a judge's life more complicated than it needs to be (or annoy their clerk)? Still, the vast majority of the lawyers I work with use Word (and use conversion tools when necessary).
posted by QuantumMeruit at 7:17 AM on July 17, 2008

Microsoft Word for a long time could not count words in the way that legal professionals require for filings, while Wordperfect did, which meant if you wanted to swap from Wordperfect you were screwed in one large pain-in-the-butt aspect of your job.

Now Word handles this well, but the legacy lives on.
posted by dmz at 7:20 AM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

WordPerfect tailored one of their early releases to the requirements of law firms. I can't remember release numbers or dates, but I remember being very impressed (when I was younger and more impressionable) during the DOS 80s that a company was tailoring its product to such a targeted niche. I guess it was a good move.
posted by OmieWise at 7:39 AM on July 17, 2008

Although I don't work for a law firm, I work for a Federal agency where a lot of my coworkers write complicated reports, contracts and other legal documents. WordPerfect was the preferred software for the writers of such reports, because of the functionality, including Reveal Codes, as noted above. And, since so many documents were based on the formatting of previous documents, it was much easier to start from an already-formatted WP document.

About 5 years ago, our Bureau decreed that Word would be the standard, and all WordPerfect installations would be deleted. After enormous outcry, some people were allowed to keep it, but now the transistion is pretty much complete, although some people (myself included) still have WordPerfect in order to open old documents when needed.

Part of my job is producing and distributing copies directly from Word files, and most of reports are get are incredibly badly formatted, because the users still have not mastered even the most simple Word concepts. (Paragraph breaks used to force a new page, instead of using a page break, for example.) I probably end up reformatting about half of the documents I get. So, I really don't blame people for sticking with what they know, and I'm sure that's what you are seeing in some legal offices.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 7:40 AM on July 17, 2008

I worked as a paralegal in a law firm when it was transitioning from WordPerfect to Word, and most of the resistance came from the secretaries. I remember asking my secretary if she could figure out what was going on in a Word document that I was having trouble with, and she responded, "I don't do Word" (despite the fact that there had been mandatory training sessions for support staff). This resistance greatly slowed the transition, to the point that it was given up for a while.
posted by amro at 7:57 AM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and FWIW, now I'm a lawyer and work in a firm that uses only Word.
posted by amro at 7:58 AM on July 17, 2008

My personal theory is inertia.

WAY back in the 1980's, lawyers were very early adopters of small computer technology, buying the highly integrated Osborne and Kaypro computers, which were ideal for legal work in many regards.

The software suite that came with Osbornes included WordStar, and Word Perfect was an available title. Kaypros came with Word Perfect.

(I was a member of the Denver Osborne Group (DOG) way back then, and I'll be 35% of our members were lawyers. Those computers typically had two floppies.. one for the program and one for the data files. Floppies could be included in a client file conveniently, segregating data into an appropriate place. Hard drives did not really start appearing in small computers until the mid 1980s. A 92k/180k/360k floppy was a perfect size for a legal job or small document.)

Back then, these computers cost a few grand, and that was a lot. Annual hardware upgrades were not gonna happen. The change rate in the software was low, too, so there was no annual upgrade path for the software... so for the first 5 years of the availability of small computers, he who was there first got the slot.

Later, when IBM PCs came on scene (1983 or so), inertia recommended staying with familiar software, and WP was one of the big two. Wordstar kinda of died.

Legal applications were actually perfect for this type of software... rare graphics, limited formatting needs, primarily composition and editing text. (I know of several state WP installations still in use here in Vermont.)

That's my story and I am sticking to it.
posted by FauxScot at 8:15 AM on July 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Historically, WP listened to the legal community, and had lots of things that worked very well for legal document needs (see especially paragraph numbering!).

To the extent that a particular firm doesn't *have* to share their documents electronically, they may still remain a WP shop.

However, to the degree that soft-copy sharing needs to happen, those firms have typically switched to Word as a concession to market pressures. That's what new attorneys are familiar with using, which decreases training time and cost. Additionally, switching back and forth from one program to another dramatically increases the likelihood of the document bombing, always at 4:58 before a 5:00 filing.

There are a few courts, as noted above, that still request documents in WP format (very few actually *require* it) as part of that historical legacy.

For what it's worth, I don't think that the actual usage of the Reveal Codes feature was a tremendous functional issue as much as it was a psychological one - not many of the folks I've assisted over the years really knew how to use the feature productively (if at all).

Similarly, a "well formatted" document is just as easy to obtain in Word, once one understands how the different programs think about their formatting. I say this as a long-time WP user who made the switch to Word not particularly willingly, but I'm now familiar and comfortable with both (in fact, WP skills have been unused for a bit, so I'm getting rusty there).

I don't think that an original legal document has been written anywhere in years - they're always amalgams of multiple previous documents, regardless of the program source.
posted by LoraxGuy at 8:23 AM on July 17, 2008

FWIW, I believe there are WP converters that act as plug-ins to Word available from the MS website. The other day at my job I had to help one of the secretaries open a WP file, and it was pretty easy to find an appropriate converter online. I work in a probation office and we've transitioned from WP to Word (but just in the past year or two). A lot of the legal stuff from other offices is still done in WP. In our case, it's just a resistance to change, because the people who create and edit these documents don't want to learn a new program and convert all of their old files.
posted by DMan at 8:34 AM on July 17, 2008

I use Word. The wordperfect cornering of the legal market is long past, but pockets remain. I think that many lawyers are resistant to change because our product is documents. Wanting to continue to be sure we can do it the right way is a big part of it.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:57 AM on July 17, 2008

I used to work for a law firm where the majority of employees used WP. In fact, when the Firm Administrator sent me my offer letter it was in WP and I couldn't even open it! I had to send it to Mr. Mixtape who had to convert it to something so he could open it in something else.

Most of us in the Litigation Department used Word but all of the Workman's Comp group used WP. I was the only employee using Word 2007--not even the IT guy knew anything about it and was useless whenever I had issues.

Interesting thread!
posted by zach braff's mixtape at 9:13 AM on July 17, 2008

WordPerfect tailored its product and I believe even sold some specific add ons for the legal market back in the 80's. Some of the advantages have been described above. Couple that with how much law firms hate change and you have WP remaining in many firms despite Word becoming the de facto standard outside of law.
posted by caddis at 9:24 AM on July 17, 2008

IAAL: I think the current prevalence of WP is overstated. A few (5-8) years ago, this was still true and it was all because of "Reveal Codes." Word does not (still) allow the user easy control at the character level, which is all-important to the law. WP Reveal Codes permitted this because it basically reduced the program to the electronic equivalent of a typewriter. Word operates with "styles" and even today there is a very great number of law firm personnel (staff and lawyers) who do not understand/use style-based formatting. If you don't understand styles and you are trying to control text layout by doing it the WP-way (character level), frustration quickly ensues. This is why WP continues to live a hidden life in many firms. (WP 5.1 was probably one of the best word processors ever created in terms of stability, speed, and ease of use).

That said, I, too, hate Word. But its ubiquity creates an enormous hurdle that is difficult to overcome. I want to practice law - not create hacks and cludges in other word processors just so I don't have to use Word for the principal of the thing. (I have Scrivener, OpenOffice and Pages on my home Mac where I do "real" writing).

Great question.
posted by webhund at 9:51 AM on July 17, 2008

IANAL, but back in the day I managed IT services for a small corporation, and spent quite a lot of time supporting the corporate counsel's network (among others).

I think WP got an early foothold in law offices because it was first to market with an automatic paragraph numbering system (HUGE in law offices), and because it did footnotes better than any competitor (it could carry them across multiple pages when no one else could).

It also had a goodly number of third-party tools that made lightweight document management and version control easy to do. And it fitted snugly with Novell's Netware, the predominant file server / networking schema at the time.

For the last decade or so? Inertia, and entrenchment.
posted by deCadmus at 12:24 PM on July 17, 2008

Oh! And when MS Word first hit the streets, it's WP file format conversion SUCKED ROCKS. Made a great many folks very reluctant to switch.
posted by deCadmus at 12:26 PM on July 17, 2008

Agreeing with the rest, I work with a client who has TONS of time put into a macro system in Wordperfect that added another menu item that does ... legal type stuff. They are still using Wordperfect 6.1 because of this. There's also a doc-gen system that a mainframe does where it creates wordperfect documents out of database information. One or two keystrokes in the terminal app and a .wpd file appears.

And the Netware thing.
posted by gjc at 7:24 PM on July 17, 2008

WordPerfect used to be tailored for the legal enviroment; others have given better info about this above, so I'm simply agreeing with that. Word had to do a lot of catch up to make its product acceptable in a legal environment and they kind of cobbled it together. Most law firms use a lot of add-ons to make it work better for what they need, so it is still a very imperfect product. I work in a big law firm in NYC and I don't think there are any firms in NYC still using WordPerfect. There is some judge in New York State who requires all the documents submitted to him be put into WordPerfect; I doubt anyone is going to tell him that he's being ridiculous, so that will persist until he retires.
posted by kenzi23 at 3:02 PM on July 18, 2008

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