A Fighting Word

How-to-Make-Pretty-Labels-in-Microsoft-Word-1024x574From the Director of the Administrative Office, I learned three days before the surgeon was to punch holes in my chest that: “During 2015, the Administrative Office (AO) will transition from Corel WordPerfect to Microsoft Word as its standard word processing program.” I know damn well that this announcement was designed to kill me.*

But I will not be cowed. Clutching my WP cheat sheet, I set out this year, as I have in years past, to defeat the forces that would take freedom away. I repeat these fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed, and especially for you, Mr. Director,

“From my cold, dead hands!”


*Thanks to my mole deep within the bowels of the pestilence ridden IT mafia of the federal courts. It is good to know that there are still patriots amongst us.

Hippo Image credit:  Charles Barsotti, Condi Nast Collection and Art Com.

32 responses

  1. We have, in my office, over 900 macros programmed for every sort of form one could need in the USPTO, as well as sundry other matters (like the 1099 form I was futzing with last night). I will join you on the ramparts.

    Word Perfect today. Word Perfect tomorrow. Word Perfect forever.

  2. Sorry judge, you touched a nerve.

    All joking aside (and that is a good cartoon), the Court’s use of WordPerfect (or Word) is just one more example of an insanely outdated and inefficient approach to information processing. It should be deeply embarrassing that in 2015 court orders are not delivered in a standard machine-readable format for legal documents–one that can be rendered as a PDF if desired–as I have suggested at http://www.plainsite.org/articles/20140116/a-notsomodest-proposal-no-more-legal-pdfs/, and that judges are still striking out words and using stamps in PDFs. In a world where 80 people control half of the Earth’s wealth, “But it works for Westlaw” is not an acceptable excuse anymore.

    And how much has been spent on PACER NextGen again? Why isn’t that the new WordPerfect?

    I could go on, but I’ll leave it there. The AO needs IT help and the Chief Justice’s discussion of pneumatic tubes in his 2014 year-end report isn’t going to cut it.

  3. Well sure, Your Honor, I hear your plea and appreciate your predicament, but you might want to consider: There are legions of dinosaur lawyers out here who were dragged kicking and screaming into the “new world” of being required to have a computer connected to the internet with an e-mail address in order to continue practicing law in the federal courts (and now the state courts). I often wonder what would happen to me if I walked into the palatial federal courthouse in Omaha (assuming I made it through the tight-knit security, of course!), knocked on the bullet-proof window at the clerk’s office, identified myself as a licensed attorney of the court, and handed them a typewritten document on real paper and requested that it be filed. Alarm bells would probably ring and the U.S. Marshals would come running from the security checkpoint at the courthouse entrance and trundle me off to some dungeon.

    As for the Word Perfect issue – perhaps karma is at work? Sorry, just couldn’t resist.

    P.S.: It is wonderful to see you back in action, jousting with the windmills of life in the legal sphere.

  4. MOK,

    On a serious note, we handle pro se handwritten document easily and quickly by converting their papers, at our expense, to PDF and filing them for these litigants. We expect slightly more of lawyers, and the benefit to them is a courthouse that remains open 24 hours a day with access 24 hours a day.

    MOK, as for the Marshals coming to get you, it is true but only partially so. We have a secret process. A USM is alerted when a lawyer tries to file paper, and USM then pulls a lever from a hiding place enclosed within blast resistant concrete adjacent to the Clerk’s office. Any lawyer giving us paper falls then through a trap door controlled by a USM never to be seen again. I have proposed that we use this device for lawyers who merely piss me off, but my colleagues think that is a bit too harsh. Too damn many liberal judges if you ask me.

    All the best.


  5. Aaron,

    Please don’t be sorry. I am fascinated with your suggestions, although, to be frank, I am entirely lacking in the basic understanding of the technology about which you write to comment very intelligently.

    I have a question, though. Are you suggesting that judges take to writing in html? If Word or WordPerfect or Google Docs, etc., are not used for preparing the “manuscript,” what would be used by those of us who must write the opinions and orders that represent our work product? If we are talking about writing using an entirely different method than is commonly used now, I am afraid that the sunk costs are just too much to justify a change, but I really haven’t thought through it. I would be interested in your thoughts.

    Thanks for your engagement. All the best.


  6. Judge Kopf,

    To answer your question, no. I’m proposing that judges use essentially the same drafting process, but with much better presently non-existent software that can render PDF, HTML, and preferably the as-yet-officially-unnamed kind of files I’m talking about. This would be pretty trivial to build (well under $1 million).

    I’m essentially suggesting that a two-step process take place. Step 1 would be the establishment of standards to encode legal documents. In practically every other field, there are standards used to convey specialized types of information, but not law. (Radiology has DICOM, outdated though it may be; supply chain management has EDI, outdated though it may be, etc.) Law has nothing. Every judge does it a different way, and the American “public” (read “lawyers”) rely on multi-billion dollar overseas conglomerates to standardize the data in their own proprietary ways. The real public relies on sites like mine and a scattered collection of legal startups, which try to do similar work with a fraction of the resources in order to provide a lower cost option.

    Step 2 would be the creation of a custom document editing program based on those standards, which could be web-based, or a plug-in for Word, or both. Judges would not be writing in HTML, but something more akin to normal English (insofar as judges write in normal English) with WordPerfect’s reveal codes. HTML has done a few things right, however, and I would suggest a new citation format to go along with it, which would look like this:


    I call this idea “LREF,” since “HREF” is used for hypertext reference links and the L is for law. For more on that see http://www.plainsite.org/articles/20140115/a-modest-proposal-modern-legal-citations/ or http://www.plainsite.org/api/lref.html, where you can build a table of authorities instantly using LREFs with one click. The upshot is that it’s vendor-neutral, machine-readable, internationally viable, and human-readable.

    Typing in a citation in that format would automatically resolve to the case, docket and document in question (in this example http://www.plainsite.org/dockets/download.html?id=19898336&z=11cc33b6) with links to each (the document, the container docket, and the case, e.g. related dockets in the same or other courts).

    The USPTO is actually soliciting bids for a similar kind of custom editor for office actions right now. See https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=c66f679c62b5b13aeca5136677123046&tab=core&_cview=1. Unfortunately I don’t have the resources to build it on my own unless the government or some law school wants to give me a grant, but it’s the same product–there are just no standards to build it on yet. Presumably GSA’s 18F exists to build this kind of product, but it may be too important and useful to fit their mandate.


  7. Access to the courthouse 24/7? Who in God’s name ever wanted that? ANd oh yes, I’ve read a couple of cases where that 24/7 “feature” was used against a party & lawyer who failed to file something “on time” because counsel did not realize that one could file up to midnight and still make the deadline. Wonderful stuff for those technically astute litigators who lurk behind their computers and present crafty motions to dismiss and motions for sanctions.

    That trapdoor you describe is of great interest to me as I contemplate an easy way to “retire” and disappear from the legal courthouse canyons. 🙂 I recently saw a similar trapdoor device being used by the Holstein cows on a Chic-Fil-A TV commercial to get rid of beef eaters.

  8. We recently transitioned from WP (which I loved for legal writing) to Word — which I hated, mostly because I was unfamiliar with it and thought it was cumbersome. After two years, I can say I have fully transitioned, and thanks to some form documents prepared by others, I can safely create and edit just about any pleading I need for my practice. So, RGK, with your fertile brain and a little patience, I am confident you will survive the transition to Word so well that you will be teaching Word to your colleagues.

  9. RGK,
    I have a question as well. I’ve always used a mechanical typewriter using stuck keys. I know how to use it and am very comfortable with its use. But my damn employer is now insisting that I use an electric typewriter! How dare they! Over my cold dead hands!

    This debate in ten or twenty years:



  10. SLS,

    If Word was a superior product for writers, then I agree that change is rationally required from WP to Word. But it isn’t.

    That is precisely why Percy Bysshe Shelley continued to use long quill pens when short, stubby and shitty ones were all the rage. See here.

    All the best.


  11. RGK,
    When did the government become rational? I thought that bill was lost in subcommittee work.


    P.S. I understand your pain and was lightly poking fun at it. I was born and raised on Word, and it sucks harder then a Dyson vacuum with a turbocharger air intake. But it’s what the places I’ve worked for require. I also quickly learned that I could be valuable to the attorneys in the office if I came in and fixed their arguments with word. See? It provides law clerks with something to do! Another bonus for word!

  12. WordPerfect is far more user friendly, and the ability to “see” the codes that end up in documents and remove them is very handy when cleaning up a brief. WORD with its embedded styles and clumsy, cumbersome process to fix formatting is a poor second-best, and further evidence that a slickly-marketed product can capture market share from a better product.

  13. Having written in WordPerfect, Word, Adobe’s pdf, and WordStar (!), my preference is Word. I say that as one who strongly dislikes Microsoft for a host of un-word processing-related reasons; it’s just a better package.

    WordStar started out the best, but those guys chose not to keep their product current with the technology’s evolution. WP has always been, for me, more cumbersome than Word; although that’s likely menuing familiarity more than anything. Adobe’s pdf is an abomination in which to write; although a pdf’s document integrity protection is the best.

    If you want your documents saved and delivered in pdf–and you should–it’s very straightforward to save Word file as a pdf, just as it is in WP.

    Lots of WP macros? They’re written in a language very similar to VBA, which is what Word uses for its macros. It’s a straightforward, if tedious (read: time consuming) one-time task to convert them for Word use.

    Still, I like the idea of requiring filings in typewritten, or handwritten, form. It would help hold down the length of the things.

    Eric Hines

  14. This sounds like another solution to a non-problem. Any modern word processing program worth its salt can produce standard output. Instead of dictating the software, just say what format the output needs to be. Then the final document can be saved as whatever type of file is needed. The mindset that people should conform to computers is completely backwards. Computers should conform to people.

  15. It seems to me that this is somewhat similar to saying all auto repairs must be done with Snap On tools instead of Mac tools.

  16. Most of us who stubbornly insist on using WordPerfect seem to agree that at least one major reason is the reveal codes function. I have never heard a good explanation for why the nice people who produce Word cannot seem to incorporate that feature into their product. Is there a technical reason? If so, someone out there must be smart enough to figure out a cure.

  17. Perhaps this means court reporters are capable of far more bureaucratic intrigue than you anticipated.

  18. I apologize for my ignorance. I just tried Shift +F1 in a Word document and no codes were revealed. What am I missing?

  19. Maybe I’m the one misunderstanding. I had the impression that “Reveal Codes” showed the formatting codes of the relevant text in a WordPerfect doc. SHIFT + F1 in a Word doc should bring up a panel to the right of the doc’s window that indicates all the formatting codes for the relevant text. It’ll also allow format comparisons between blocks of text.

    It works for Word versions from 2007-2010.

    Eric Hines

  20. I admit to being clueless about this. I have Word 2008 for Mac, and I can find nothing in Word that resembles the Reveal Codes function in WordPerfect. Thankfully, no one is forcing me to give up my WordPerfect.

  21. I have Word 2008 for Mac

    Well, there’s your problem. [g] I don’t know if the thing works on 2k8, but Microsoft products are notorious for not working well on Macs. They approach cripplewear on Mac machines.

    Eric Hines

  22. Regimentation of and on the inner tubes!

    Did anyone else use WordStar(tm) on an 8080 (8-bit) Intel CPU, with 64k of RAM, on a Kaypro running CP/M as the OS?

    With 5 1/4″ floppy disks of 360k storage capacity?

    That was BMW! (before Microsoft and Windows) (and even before WP and Word)

    Then along came that pesky x86 16-bit revolution engendering that MSDOS thingy rebellion.


    I fought hard, like Judge RGK will, to keep the holy machines. Some even had clicky keyboards to sound like typewriters. Swoon!

    I was finally captured then forced to reconsider as those good ole machines ceased to exist, or work, any more.

    Regression in the name of progress –gotta suffer it sometimes.

  23. This post is the best explanation of why PACER is the way it is, and why it is such an accomplishment.

    Mind you, if someone tried to make me switch from emacs to vi (two very different text editors for programmers) I’d feel exactly the same way.

  24. All judges must be made to write only in Latex. That might force them to pay some attention to what they are writing :-).

  25. TF,

    I resist knowing (caring) what I write (as this blog proves). It is so much more fun simply seeing what comes out!

    All the best.


  26. Aaron,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. In a bit of irony, my spam catcher flagged your comment and I did not see the flag until now.

    I appreciate your reply to my question. All the best.


  27. I’m with the lawyers who pretty much solely preserved Word Perfect; I’ll give it up when they pry it out of my cold dead hands.

    My office manager recently tried to make us switch to Word rather than buy the new version of WP. It made both me and my assistant so miserable that after about two weeks he had mercy on us and agreed to buy the new WP. Word is clunky and not user-friendly. As someone said earlier, why not just have an easy to use Reveal Codes?

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