Word Wizardry for Lawyers

I spend a lot of time in this column talking about the future of legal technology. Today, I’d like to give you something a little more practical, and help you use the technology you already have.

Let me share with you the one thing that I wish every lawyer and law student knew about Microsoft Word: Multilevel lists.

In the toolbar of Microsoft Word you will find Multilevel lists just to the right of bullets and numbered lists.

Click on that button, and a menu appears. You’re going to want to click on “Define New Multilevel List…”

In the screen that pops up, you’re going to want to click on the “More>>” button (if you haven’t before). You should then be looking at something like this:

Briefly, a Style is a name that is given to text that is all formatted in the same way throughout the document. You can highlight your text, and click on a style in the ribbon to change it’s formatting. You can also create your own styles from scratch. If you are using Microsoft Word regularly and not using your own custom Styles, you need to start.

The basic idea of a multilevel list is that the main list might be numbers (1,2,3), the first sub-list might be small roman numerals (i ,ii, iii), etc. You’ve probably used them for paragraph numbering, or clauses and sub-clauses in a contract.

What I want to draw your attention to is the “Link level to style” feature on the above screen, which is second from the top on the right-hand side.

When you create a custom multilevel list you can set out 9 different list and sub-list styles, each with its own numbering and text style. Here’s the catch: For the numbering style, you can say “none”.

That might seem counter-intuitive. Why would you want to create a multilevel list where one of the levels isn’t a list? The answer is speed.

When you are typing a multilevel list, you can use the tab key to move to a sub-list, and shift-tab to move back to the previous list level. If the levels of your multi-level lists are linked to styles, that lets you change styles and apply the correct numbering, before you start typing, by just hitting tab and shift-tab.

One great use of this sort of multi-level list is when you are doing pleadings. Set up a list of styles that represent:

  • Document Title
  • Section Title
  • Subsection Title
  • Paragraph
  • Sub-paragraph
  • Sub-sub-paragraph
  • Block Quote
  • After-Paragraph Citation

Then, when you want to go from a numbered paragraph to a block quote, you will hit enter, hit tab three times, and keep typing. Or to change the style of an existing paragraph of text, you go to the start of the paragraph, and hit tab or shift-tab until it looks how you want it to look. Once you try it, you will never want to go back.

There is a little bit of a learning curve, but all you need to learn is in that one dialog screen. Once you have a set of styles that are set up right, it will make you faster, and you will never break your numbering by applying a style, or break your styling by applying a numbering.

Give it a try.


  1. Michelle Spencer

    Great tips. The most important part is picking one of the lists of numbering that has the word heading next to it. Having numbering linked to Headings 1-9 makes the numbering levels behave and auto table of contents work.

  2. Shaunna Mireau

    Styles save time.
    Thanks for sharing Jason