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Avoid MS Word, US appelate judges warn lawyers

Use WordPerfect, Illinois court told

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MS Word has been condemned by three US Court of Appeals judges for giving an incorrect word count. Rule 32 of the appeal procedure requires briefs to be no more than 14,000 words (and reply briefs 7000 words), but the hapless party to an otherwise irrelevant case in the Northern District of Illinois was castigated for a false certificate to the court that a brief was 13,824 words long. Rule 32 says that headings, footnotes, quotations etc. count toward the word and line limitations. It turned out there were 15,056 words according to WordPerfect. The faulty product was MS Word 97, which has an option to include footnotes if invoked -- except that it is dimmed and cannot be used if any text is selected, so the count is for the number of words excluding footnotes. This is a problem because the corporate disclosure statement, the table of contents, the table of citations, and the like do not count towards the word limit, so selecting text is essential. It's a bug, of course, although we shall probably be told it is a feature. The judges said: "Current versions of Corel WordPerfect (for both Windows and Macintosh platforms) do not have this problem. WordPerfect does what lawyers may suppose that Word does (or should do): it automatically includes footnotes in its word and character counts." The endorsement of WP continued: "Lawyers who produce their documents with WordPerfect software have an easy job of things under Rule 32." So far as the future is concerned, "Long-run solutions to this problem [Ha! Claiming it's a "feature" and not a "problem" could be contempt of court] must come either from Microsoft Corporation -- which ought to make it possible to obtain a count of words in footnotes attached to a selected text... We will send copies of this Opinion to those responsible... flag this issue in the court's Practitioner's Guide... law firms should alert their staffs to the issue... our clerk's office will spot-check briefs that have been prepared on Microsoft Word." The Opinion concluded: "Counsel who use Word are not entitled to a litigating advantage over those who use WordPerfect." Quite. They deserve our sympathy, though. No wonder Sullivan & Cromwell, Microsoft's lawyers', use WordPerfect: they knew all along that they's have a lot of words to count for the Court of Appeals, and didn't want to look any sillier than necessary. ®

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