WordPerfect versus Word

I am frequently contacted on the PA Bar Association hot line with a question which also pops up during virtually every technology seminar I present. Today is no exception. An attorney wrote me with the following questions:

My office operates in WordPerfect. I’m advertising for secretarial help and requesting knowledge of WordPerfect, but most applicants are skilled in Word and not WordPerfect.

When I work through e-mail with opposing counsel, I often receive documents in Word and have trouble converting to WordPerfect and returning the corrected documents in Word.

I suppose I need to face the music – WordPerfect is becoming obsolete.

Question to you is how difficult is it to learn Word? Any suggestions? My current assistant knows only WordPerfect. Is it difficult to convert?

I always feel a twang of regret when I deliver my response. I am a died-in-the-wool WordPerfect fan. Let me say that at the outset. I don’t think that there will ever be a better heads-down word processing program than WordPerfect 5.1 DOS offered. Anything added after that is just gravy on the mashed.

And I was probably more familiar and accomplished in WordPerfect than most users. In fact, I produced a highly sophisticated 40-page quarterly magazine, camera-ready for the printing company, for over ten years using WordPerfect. I started it in WordPerfect 5.1 DOS, and eventually brought it into the Windows world. But that doesn’t change today’s reality. Here is a close version of my response:

Thank you for writing with this question. As I mention at virtually every technology seminar, the war is over, and the evil empire has won. As you have discovered, it has become a Word world out there. The legal stronghold, the last big industry to hold out, is slowly caving in, mostly due to client pressures to operate using the same software.

When documents were exchanged via fax and hard copy it didn’t matter that a law firm used different software. Now that attachment via email is the #1 method of communication, it matters a lot. Not only is conversion back and forth cumbersome and time consuming, it will ultimately result in lots of document corruption. And Murphy’s law is that it will always happen when you are on a deadline. So it’s time to give it up.

For a staff member to really be able to produce, I recommend 2 days of basic training in Word, and 1 additional day of advanced training about 2 months later. I recommend ½ day total for attorneys who will use Word a typical amount. For any “power users” one full day will be more appropriate. Classes should never be longer than ½ day at any time, and no one should attend more than 2 in one week.

Training is a “use it or lose it” proposition, so it’s important to give enough for people to apply as quickly as possible, so that it “sticks”, without presenting so much it just gets quickly forgotten. Keep in mind that most studies show that people will ultimately retain about 40% of what they’ve been shown, so an integral part of the training time is based on review of previously demonstrated concepts.

Word operates on a totally different paradigm than WordPerfect. Having someone plunge into Word with no training, (although this is done all the time) ,will be a highly frustrating experience, as the same logic does not apply, and what works in one will produce unreliable results in the other. WordPerfect is linear in design. Codes get turned on and off throughout the document as one progresses.

Word, on the other hand, is a global program. The ideal way to use it is to get the words on paper, get as much editing done as possible, and then apply most of the formatting quickly and simply using the powerful tools provided. The particular challenge in a law firm results from attorneys wanting to see a fully formatted document before they begin cutting and pasting and inserting additional text. That’s one of the reasons why training is so essential.

Certainly some of my colleagues do not agree with me. I respect their perspective, even though I don’t agree with it. And following virtually every seminar where I answer this question, at least one attorney comes up to me with a pained expression and begs me not to continue to deliver this message, because by doing so I am viewed as a motivating or causal factor, rather than an observer on the sidelines viewing a trend. And I guess there’s some truth to that, although it’s not my intention by any means.

There is an additional factor that also comes into play, and that is my opinion that the other components in the Microsoft Suite are better than the other components in the Corel Suite. So putting the word processing comparison aside, I have to say that in my opinion there’s no comparison in the other elements of the suite. So if you want Excel, PowerPoint and/or Outlook, for example, what sense would it be to use WordPerfect, and sacrifice the tight integration between the packages?

Forgive me Corel. I love your WordPerfect product. But the reality I see for law firms is that the evil empire has won the war. And that’s not because of people like me who are of this opinion. It’s because of the majority of our clients, who have been in the Word world since it’s inception. Ultimately, in today’s competitive climate, what the client wants, the client gets. I also see it reflected in legal software produced by third party vendors. I am starting to see packages which have only Word versions. I also see that Word versions usually come out first, and are updated more often, when two versions are offered by a vendor. The only promise of salvation may lie in your latest version, which boasts an ability to create Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents from within WordPerfect. I can assure you and all my readers that I will be trying it out shortly.

Meanwhile, I am reminded of an old saying . . . Don’t kill the messenger!


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  1. WordPerfect v. Word « Advocate’s Studio — August 7, 2008 @ 4:57 pm

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