Google Docs is an exceptional program that allows collaboration among lawyers, staff, and other firms. I recently commented that email is the inefficient way to collaborate on a document.

This statement followed a series of other comments where I expressed my frustration about people’s misconceptions of cloud services.

The point is, if you’re giving your staff and colleagues tools to use, you should know and understand how those tools work. More importantly, you should understand some of the benefits that arise.

Except most attorneys “forget” how to function in even the simplest application. You shouldn’t let that happen, and here’s how you can make yourself more useful.


The essential element of Google Docs is sharing. I love being able to work on a document at the same time as a partner to achieve results. Google Drive provides the ultimate platform for collaboration, but you need to share the document or file.

sharing settings visibility access alternative

Check out this post on how to turn on file and folder sharing.

Track changes or suggested edits

Google boosted the suggested edits feature by enabling functionality with Microsoft Word documents.

Suggested edits give users guidance on improving their product, without intruding on the original text. I like to thing of suggested edits as comments to the original text.

comment google doc

Simply select the word or text you’d like to edit and add a comment via the comment button (Ctrl+Alt+M). The reader has a comment he or she can reply to or accept.

Similarly, track changes allows the editor to make changes to the document. The creator see the changes and can accept or deny the revisions. I gave an in-depth demonstration of the track changes add-on here.

I should also mention that you can create more of a track changes feel, and still keep your suggested edits, simply by changing your editing role.

google docs editing roll

example of editing google docs

Revision history

Honestly, I never saw much sense in this feature until I worked on a document with a number of different people. Revision history (Ctrl+Shift+Alt+G) gives users a glimpse at the timeline history of the document’s revisions.

revision history

This was the track changes function until Google introduced Add-ons. Now revision history is more of a side note. But the feature shouldn’t be, because it’s a valuable tool in managing the creation and revisions of your document. Revision history is an especially useful feature when a team member deletes a major portion of the document and you need to recover the inadvertent edit.

revision history full

Each user gets an assigned color, so you know exactly who to blame; yourself included.


Add-ons are also an important function to making Google Drive a more successful (and useful) publishing platform.

Get Add-ons

Add-ons are special applications that “attach” to Docs, Sheets, or Slides and make them more user friendly and powerful. Google has an ever-growing list of Add-ons. You can read more here.

Download as

Google Drive offers a variety of downloadable formats, so you’re not “stuck” using Google Drive format. I regularly download documents to PDF or Word format for court filing or sharing with colleagues (or saving to my case management software). The Download as… button is a life saver.

google docs download as

Add fonts

Google Docs has a number of default fonts to choose from. But I also like that you can add a new array of fonts. Get started by choosing More fonts from the font drop-down menu.

google fonts google docs

You’ll see a new pop-up window with a variety of font options.

more fonts google docs

Scroll through the list of options and select the ones you like.

google docs font options

The selection will turn light blue. Continue selecting fonts to add, then click OK when you’re ready. Now, will everyone please stop using Times New Roman and Arial?

Special characters

In almost every brief or legal memorandum I’m adding a paragraph sign (¶) or section symbol (§). And usually, the second most asked question when I’m talking to audiences is, “where do I find special symbols in Google Docs.”

Well, they’re “hidden” in the Special characters menu under the Insert tab.

special charactersUnfortunately, there’s no keyboard shortcut, but just look for the Omega symbol (Ω) on the menu. You’ll see a new window will all of the special characters you’d (hopefully) ever need.

insert special characters google docs

Incidentally, your paragraph and section symbols are under Punctuation > ASCII Based.


Talk to any Microsoft Word expert and he or she will say, “you need to know styles.” Well, the same is true for Docs. Except Styles in Google Docs are a little less complicated to work with. You’ll find all of your document style options under the Styles menu on the toolbar.

google docs stylesStyles help create consistency in a document, which will ultimately make things a lot easier if you have to change something.

For instance, if you’re heading all of your arguments, use the Heading 1 style to create a unified look. To create or change a default style, simply select your text, modify the font style and font size, and then click the right arrow next to Heading 1.

heading 1 style update

You’ll have the option to Apply ‘Heading 1’ (if the style’s already set) or Update ‘Heading 1’ to match. Select the update option if this is your first time creating the style.

Google Docs will apply the Heading 1 style every time you highlight another line of text and click Heading 1. Plus, if you ever want to change that style, follow the same procedure to update, and Google Docs will automatically format all Heading 1 instances to match.

Use “Preferences”

One of the biggest time-saving features of any quality word processing program are quick formatting preferences. In Docs or Word, you’ll usually see small instances of formatting preference when you type (c) and the processor automatically enters ©. Sometimes this is frustrating. But when automatic formatting is properly set, the formatting can increase productivity.

Google Docs the automatic formatting function “Preferences” (Tools > Preferences). You can edit the Preferences to insert specific words or phrases.

google docs preferences

Admittedly, sometimes the Preferences don’t work too well.

preference error

But having to make a few small corrections still saves time.


Google Scholar is one of my go-to Google internet resources. Except when I’m drafting a document in Google Docs. Then I’ll harness Google’s search power and research (Ctrl+Alt+Shift+I) topics directly from Google Docs.

research google docs

Google Docs’ research function allows me to access the internet for specific topics, images, or other information.

research tabs

The floating toolbar tracks the topics and helps me organize the information into my brief. Of course, this method isn’t quite as detailed as using Fastcase, Westlaw, or LexisNexis, but it helps. The research tab is especially useful for working on firm management or back office tasks, like blogging.

More powerful than you realized

Hopefully, this post gives you a few items to go with that’ll make your Google Docs sessions more productive. And don’t forget, you should also try dictation, drafting a pleading, or even check out the California pleading templates, for some more examples of Docs’ powerful utility.

Jeff Taylor

I'm just an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life. I'm also an attorney and I blog about Android for lawyers. You can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Google+.

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