"I cannot open that document you sent me." We used to hear that a lot on the early days of law office computing as several word processors competed for market share. Well, we are starting to hear it a lot more this year.

As many of you know the primary programs in Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint and Excel) now have a new and improved file format, which is XML compliant. This can be noticed from the different file name extension; .docx instead of .doc and .pptx instead of .ppt. It can also be noticed when you try to open one of these "new" documents with the older version of the same software and they will not open. Luckily the "fix" for this is pretty simple, just go and download the Microsoft Compatability Pack to allow your Office 2003 version to read Office 2007 files.

When I got Office 2007 at the first of the year, I would try to remember to use "Save as" to save in the old format when I was sending something out by e-mail to make sure I didn’t hear back with the "couldn’t open" problem. That is surprisingly hard to rememebr. After about the third "can’t open" message back, I gave up and set my default to save as the older format. I figured a year from now everyone will have either upgraded or installed the patch. Then I’ll change to the new format and, meanwhile, if I need some power hidden in the new format I can always "save as" for that file.

Well, that worked for me and a few days later I was speaking to the Cleveland County Bar in Norman, Oklahoma, and mentioned that as an idea or tips of sorts.

Afterwards I was approached by Hank Ryan, a Norman lawyer and legal technology consultant. Hank smiled and made the comment that I had told them wrong about e-mail the Word files. "Oh?" I said and, since Hank is a high level tech guy, I assumed he was going to inform me about the numerous benefits of the XML file format.

"You’re supposed to tell them not to e-mail Word files out at all, not teach them how!" he said. Hank and I shared a chuckle over that one, of course. He’s correct. Due to metadata concerns, most lawyers would be much better served by sending files out in PDF format rather than Word. I’d been sending documents that were being jointly drafted to a co-author and had no choice.

But remember Hank’s advice, not mine. Avoid e-mailing Word documents out when PDF will do. And have a metadata scrubber to use first when you have to e-mail out Word documents.

But if you are going to stick with the 2003 version of MS Office for a while, go ahead and download the Compatability pack and install it–because other people will be sending you Word documents.