Mistakes Lawyers Make With Microsoft Word

Overwriting Old Documents


One thing most lawyers do is reuse old documents. The Smith will was so good that when Mr. Jones needs a will you just open the Smith will, make the necessary changes, and save as Mr. Jones’s will. One problem with that arises when you open the Smith will, make your changes, then just click “Save”…and you’ve just saved over Mr. Smith’s will with Mr. Jones’s will. Oops.

We get 2-4 calls per month from law firms who need us to help them retrieve a previous version of a document because somebody saved over the old one with an incorrect version. Fortunately most of them have backup systems that allow us to retrieve the old version. In the case that happens to you however don’t delay. Backups are in a constant state of change. Every night (hopefully) a new backup is done and in many cases it overwrites a previous backup. If you wait too long to request a restoral the correct file may be overwritten by the erroneously edited one. Let your IT staff know as soon as you realize the error – that will maximize your chances to get it fixed.

There are a few ways to prevent overwriting an old file with the wrong one. One is that when you open Mr. Smith’s will, but before you make any changes to it, click the File and do a Save As to save a copy of the document with a new filename. (if you prefer the keyboard, press F12)  Then you’re working with that new document and Mr. Smith’s original will is untouched.

A second way is that after you open Mr. Smith’s will, select all of the text by pressing CTRL+A, copy that text to the clipboard with a deft CTRL+C, then click the File and start a new, blank document. CTRL+V pastes that text into the blank, new document and CTRL+S lets you save that now not-so-blank new document with a new filename and location if desired. You may then tap the CTRL key however many times you like to make yourself grin at how clever you were to not only preserve Mr. Smith’s will but probably significantly reduce your metadata issues in one (well, 4 or 5) swift strokes.

Of course, most of these issues can also be avoided by having a good document management and version control system or, better still, by making productive use of a quality document assembly tool to create your documents rather than dragging out and re-editing old works.