What happened to WordPerfect to relegate it to a niche product primarily used by lawyers and some government officials? In a word, Microsoft happened.

The primary reason given by law firms for conversion from WordPerfect to MS Word is that their clients wanted documents in MS Word format, not WordPerfect. In many cases, that was not an accurate summary of the client’s wishes. The clients simply wanted to be able to open documents they received from the lawyer by e-mail. Clients should expect to receive digital documents from their lawyers in an easily readable form.  The lawyers work for the clients after all.

During the 90’s Microsoft Office was shipped pre-installed on more and more computers while people began to use the e-mail attachment method to transmit documents instead of faxes or couriers. Lawyers then began to hear from their clients that they were unable to open the documents they received via e-mail. These lawyers went to their IT departments and were told “you need to use Microsoft Word.” Of course, as many reading this understand, that was not necessarily the correct answer. There were alternatives, but by then most IT professionals had seen what they believed to be the handwriting on the wall and they were convinced that it was going to be a Microsoft world. So, they reasoned, might as well get those lawyers and staff converted to Microsoft sooner rather than later.

And so began (for many firms) the painful conversion from WordPerfect to MS Word. This pain was not because the staff was resistant to change, but because Word and WP really operate in significantly different ways. You can use different web browsers or different digital image editors and they will operate in much the same way. But once you get past the basic features, WordPerfect is from Mars and the MS Word is from Venus.

Of course, there were some firms that had a more simple solution than buying new software and retraining the entire staff. They just trained their people to convert their WordPerfect documents into a format that the clients could use. In most cases, it was as simple as using “Save as” to save the document in RTF format rather than WPD format. The WP document saved as RTF could generally be easily opened by Word.

But for the most part, clients generally just want to read the lawyer’s documents. Do they need to edit the documents? Generally speaking, most lawyers would rather have the client reading the documents and making suggestions rather than actually editing the legal work themselves.

So since WordPerfect 9, the ability to publish directly to PDF has been a part of WordPerfect. Almost everyone has available the free Adobe Reader to open and read PDF files.

The WordPerfect Lawyer will now share most documents with clients by selecting File, and then Publish to PDF. If the client needs to be able to edit the document, you can use “save as” and select a compatible format, such as RTF. But recent versions of WordPerfect, 11 and 12, have vastly improved document conversion features, essentially allowing documents to be easily converted to and from Word format. Even though you might hear a different story from your local court officials, if you are in an e-filing jurisdiction that requires PDF file format, upgrading to WP 11 or 12 is a simple way to generate the required PDF files from your WordPerfect documents.

So, while I’m not trying to sell software, it does appear clear that the WordPerfect lawyer needs to have at least version 11 or 12 of the product. The good news is that is not a huge investment. At the Corel website, purchasing the WordPerfect 12 upgrade is $149.99 in the box and $129.99 if purchased via download. I’m sure WP 11 is sold for less on eBay. Some may be interested in the WordPerfect Office 12 Legal Quick Start Bundle, which includes Amicus Attorney Organizer Edition and a package of business document templates.