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How to Use MS Word to Format Legal Documents

Jul 7 2023

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3.5 min



MS Word


Read time

3.5 min

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Working in the legal industry automatically implies lots of paperwork – legal agreements, notices, briefs, affidavits, and contracts.

Although every legal professional knows how to craft a legal document in MS Word on a desktop, some handy tips can help improve your legal drafts.

Check them out below!

Legal document formatting tips

Here we’ll walk you through some common standards that traditionally apply to legal documents. Before you start, make sure that you start by clearing any Word formatting from the content

Resize your documents to legal paper size 

This tip is all about size. Instead of using letter size set your Word document to legal paper size. Legal paper is preferred by lawyers because it allows lengthy details like you see in contracts. 

To set this up, go to Layout >Size> Legal.

Selecting legal paper size option in MS Word

Select fonts used in legal documents

You’ll want to match the font you use in a legal document with fonts other legal professionals are using. 

There’s no standard font to turn to, as fonts vary depending on law firms, courthouses, or the document you’re drafting. While you can play it safe with a 12 pt font size and Times New Roman, other recommended fonts for legal documents include:

  • Serif fonts: Century Schoolbook, Georgia, Baskerville, Bookman Old Style, and Times New Roman alternatives like Equity, Tiempos, and Verdigris.
  • Sans serif fonts: Century Gothic, Helvetica, Helvetica alternatives like Neue Haas Grotesk, Atlas, and Concourse, Calibri alternatives like Concourse, Guardian Sans, Seravek, and Fort.

To change the font in your document to any of the above, highlight text (or press CTRL+A) and then right-click on the text to display the floating formatting menu. Then select one of the three fonts from the drop-down font menu.

Customize line spacing

When it comes to line spacing for legal documents, the text within the body should be double-spaced. And for indented text, use single spacing. You can find the line spacing options under: 

Layout > Paragraph section >click on the bottom right arrow >Indents and Spacing> Spacing

Then choose either Single or Double line spacing options from the drop-down menu and click on OK.

Setting up line spacing options in MS Word

Aligning text with pleading line numbers

If you’re dealing with Pleading documents, you’ll need to be exact with spacing to align your text with Pleading Line Numbers. These are numbers that are inserted along the left side of the page. The formatting is standard for pleading paper documents that are filed with courts to outline a claim or a defense.

To start aligning your text, use exact line spacing instead of single or double spacing. The pleading line number spacing is set to exactly 24 pt, so you have to ensure that the side numbering matches the spacing of the text, which should also be set to 24-point spacing.

Adjusting line spacing for pleading documents in MS Word

To set this up:

1. Go to Layout > Paragraph section.

2. Click on the bottom right arrow.

3. Go to Indents and Spacing > Spacing.

4. In the Line spacing drop-down menu, select Exactly and enter 24pt in the At: field.

Create your own Microsoft Word style 

If you work at a legal firm that uses specific formatting and branding, you may not find a preset Style element that fits your needs. Luckily, you can create your own.

For instance, if you want special headings, bolded section titles, and double-spaced text, you can apply the formatting throughout your document by saving it as a Style.

Here’s how:

First, format the text exactly the way you need it. After everything is formatted, select the formatted content and follow these steps:

1. Go to Home > Styles. 

2. Click on Create a Style.

3. In the dialog, give your Style a name and click on OK. You’ll then see it displayed in the Styles menu.

You can also modify it at any time by right clicking on the Style and selecting Modify.... You’ll get options to tweak the formatting as required.

Options for creating a new style from formatting in MS Word

Your saved Style can act as a formatting template you can apply to any document in the future.

How to format columns

In a legal office environment, columns are commonly used to format service lists. One column is the default setting in MS Word, but for legal documents two columns are sometimes required.

To change your column layout, go to:

Layout> Page Setup> Columns> Two

Selecting two column formatting in MS Word

Create your table of authorities

A Table of Authorities is a list of all the references that are used in a legal document. This includes cases, statutes, regulations, treatises, and more.

When you create a Table of Authorities, MS Word uses the citations throughout your document to build it. 

First, you’ll need to mark your citations. To do this, follow these steps:

1. Click on Mark Citation.

2. In the Mark Citation dialog, start filling out the fields:

  • Category field: Cases, statutes, regulations, and so on.
  • Long Citation: Enter the citation as you would like it to appear.
  • Short Citation: Enter the short citation you want Word to search for.

3. Click on Mark and continue to the next citation.

Select where in the document you want to insert your Table of Authorities by placing your cursor on the page.

Next, go to the References tab. Click on the Insert Table of Authorities button. Your table will be created and inserted instantly.

Find DIY legal templates online

If you’re looking for complete templates to start your document, there are resources such as Lawdepot.ca, and Legaltemplates.net. These are authoritative sites where you can access legal information and resources to help handle legal documents yourself.

However, note that any do-it-yourself forms and tools don’t constitute official legal advice or replace a legal representative! If you decide to use any of their resources or the tips above, ensure that you have your document drafts vetted by a professional lawyer before submitting or signing anything.

Start formatting your legal documents with Xodo 

Learning how to edit a legal document in Word and reformat it doesn’t have to be hard. You just need to know which formatting settings to adjust. And MS Word has just the features to format your content for any purpose.

If you’re working with legal templates or drafts that were saved as a PDF, convert your PDF to Word for free with Xodo and then use the tips above.

If you need to review, mark-up comments, or even sign your contracts or legal documents, check out the 30+ free online tools from Xodo available.

Convert and format legal PDF content in MS Word with Xodo Online now!

Explore All Xodo Tools
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Reena Cruz

PDF Productivity Expert

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