Style Themes for Legal Briefs (MS Word 2016)

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This tutorial has been created for MS Word 2016 running on a Windows computer. We are currently working to accommodate Windows versions as early as MS Word 2010, as well as comparable Macintosh versions. We will post revisions as they are created. If you are running on a Linux system, you’re on your own – but more power to you. You’ll figure it out you crazy bugger.

People judge books by their covers. And no matter how sound your argument, you won’t be taken seriously if you write in Comic Sans (or Calibri for that matter — that’s just lazy).

For most of my life, I’ve been in a field that required a large degree of writing. As a religious-studies major at a small liberal arts college and then an attorney, I’ve been, what I call, competitively writing since I was at least eighteen. What I mean by that isn’t that I’ve been entering into writing competitions (I don’t grammar too good), but I mean that I’ve been presenting documents, essays, briefs, arguments, and analyses to people who judge them in order to assess the value of the underlying supposition – usually against others (you know, like judges).

What I hadn’t recognized until law school (I say recognized, but I mean “had beaten into my head by my appellate practice professor”) is that when writing to convince people, the format, the style, and the overall mis-en-scene of your document can be almost as important as the argument itself. A sloppy document, will make people think that your argument is sloppy.

This was kind of embarrassing news to me. I always assumed Times New Roman 12pt font would do the trick (unless I was trying to get to a particular page count then I might make the font slightly bigger, and bring in the margins, and use shorter paragraphs). I never really introduced style into my documents with formatting like All-Caps, Small Caps, bold, italics, superscript, or subscript. I didn’t realize that I was essentially my own publisher. I didn’t realize that I needed to make my documents appealing and easy to read. But that’s the case today. Especially for the modern lawyer. With desktop publishing the way it is, you can’t be satisfied with simply relaying your thoughts in whatever out-of-the-box font you are used to. You need to church it up a bit.

This isn’t to say that you should go design your own font-family, use paper embossed with your firm logo, or wrap your documents in self-branded bows (unless self-branded bows are your thing – in which case, shine on you crazy diamond). But your documents need to look professional and thoughtful, and their format needs to enhance their readability. Whether you like it or not, you’re saying something with the style, or lack-thereof, of each document you produce. Make sure you are saying the right thing (If you want a solid lesson on typography for lawyers, you should check out Matthew Butterick’s book named . . . “Typography for Lawyers”).

“But who’s got time to meticulously format every single document they produce?”

You do. With a little help from MS Word Themes.

In this Quick-Tool Tutorial, we give you a way to consistently apply the same styles throughout all of your briefs, and create a Table of Contents in your document, with minimal (hopefully zero) edits. To do so, we will take an existing Theme (that I include as a download) and import it into your Microsoft Word for quick and easy use in your future documents at the push of a button.

Oh, and kids, MS Word Themes are magic. — They’re a happy medium between permanently changing the styles going forward in all of your documents (globally), and simply changing the style temporarily for your current work (locally). It’s like creating separate templates for each of your document styles (Briefs, client letters, court correspondence, etc …), but you can choose the styles from those templates while you are in a document instead of needing to find and open the specific template in the first place.

Using a Theme for Your Briefs

The theme below changes a few things in your Styles so your briefs look sharp and consistent while allowing you to create a Table of Contents based on your Styles without any custom editing.

The changes are:

  1. Heading 1 is hidden from your QuickStyles tool bar. (Using this style will sometimes mess up your Table of Contents, so we eliminate it altogether)
  2. Heading 2 is All Caps, bold, Century, 12pt with roman numerals (I) at the beginning of the paragraph.
  3. Heading 3 is Small Caps, bold, underlined, Century, 12pt with capital letters (A) at the beginning of the paragraph.
  4. Heading 4 is bold, underlined, Century, 12pt with numbers (1) at the beginning of the paragraph.
  5. Heading 5 is bold, italicized, Century, 12pt with romanettes (ii) at the beginning of the paragraph.
  6. Quote is right and left margins of .5 in, with no hanging indent.
  7. Cite is a new style created to allow you to quickly make a word or words into Small Caps, bold, Century, 12pt font. It does not affect the entire paragraph like the other Styles above.

Steps to set-up:

  1. Download Brief_T4L.dotx
  2. Place that file in C:\Users\[USERNAME]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\QuickStyles (If you cannot find the AppData folder, you may have to unhide it.)
  3. Open an MS Word document.
  4. Change to the Design Ribbon.
  5. Select the “Brief_T4L” theme – it will usually be the second one.

Now, you’re ready to use the Brief theme. Your styles will have changed as noted above. Use the Headers 2-5 for each of the headings in your brief outline. When you do so, the Table of Contents will be able to create its content from that information.

Steps to create a Table of Contents:

  1. Go to References Ribbon and click the Table of Contents.
  2. Select “Custom Table of Contents”.
  3. Select “Options” from the pop-up menu.
  4. Deselect “Styles” check-box so that “Outline” is the only one selected.
  5. Click, “OK”, then “OK”.

This will create a Table of Contents wherever your cursor is. However, it won’t give you any content if you haven’t created any in your document. Which seems obvious, but I feel I need to say that.

Once you have imported this Theme template, it will be an option in all of your future MS Word documents. All you have to do is navigate to the Design Ribbon, select “Brief_T4L”, and all of your documents will have the same styles. Obviously, you can create Themes yourself and save them the same way. A deep discussion of how to do that can be found below in the Further Information section.

Further Information