In any trade ‘Use the right tool for the job’ is good advice. If you are writing a schedule of loss, the right tool is a spreadsheet program – probably Excel.

A spreadsheet presents you with a page of cells, in which you can enter numbers. It is designed for dealing with and presenting numerical information, in the same way that a word processor – eg Word – is designed for dealing with text. But Excel is much better designed than Word.

The main advantage of a spreadsheet is that you can get the software to do the calculation for you. Suppose you have calculated a weekly loss of £78.65, and the period of time between dismissal and the hearing is 57 weeks. You write 78.65 in one cell (say D7) and 57 in another (say D8). To get the total past loss, you need to multiply £78.65 by 57. At this point, you could reach for your calculator, do the calculation, and then write £4,483.05 into cell E9. But the clever thing is to tell cell E9 that it should do the sum: (number in cell D7)x(number in cell D8). You do this using Excel’s ‘formula builder’ function.

*How to use ‘formula builder’*

Open a new Excel document. Write some numbers in cells D7 and D8, and imagine that you wish to add them and put the answer in cell E9.

Write “=” in E9. Then click on D7 and D8 in succession, and you will see that cell E9 now reads “D7+D8.” Press ‘return’ and you will see the answer in E9.

You don’t always want to add, of course. Excel defaults to addition because it is the most common operation people want to do in spreadsheets. But you can subtract, multiply or divide, too. Write “=” in another cell, and this time click on D7, then write “-“, then click on D8. That will subtract the number in D8 from the number in D7. To multiply you use “*” and to divide you use “/”.

The reason this is so clever is that it allows you to change your mind about any of the numbers that go into your calculation without re-doing all the consequential calculations the hard way. Change the number in cell D7 or D8, and the number in E9 will change automatically. If you use ‘formula builder’ every time you do any calculation, by the time you have finished you will have a lot of automatic calculations built in to your schedule. Your ‘weekly loss’ will have played a part in past loss, and future loss; you will have added up various heads of loss; you may have calculated interest, or done a ‘grossing up’ calculation. Lots of these figures will depend on each other.

Download this sample schedule and play around with it to see how it works. Try changing the ‘Week’s Pay, Net’ figure. Most of the figures will change, because they depend on the weekly pay.

The more complicated a schedule of loss is, the more this helps. In a difficult case your schedule may go on for a dozen pages and include a hundred separate calculations. You won’t get it right first time – or even second or third – so there will be many changes. If you’re doing the sums manually, you’ll end up doing hundreds of separate recalculations, which will then have to be double and triple checked. You will spend a lot of quality time with your calculator; and even then, you’ll probably get tired and end up with some errors. You can make mistakes with a spreadsheet, too of course – if you tell ‘formula builder’ to subtract instead of adding, or add instead of multiplying, or if you fail to add all the figures you ought to, or add some figures twice. But the point is that they are easier to spot; and once spotted, easier to correct.

Your spreadsheet can help during the hearing, or during negotiations, too. If you are using a laptop, you can have your spreadsheet open, and adjust it on the fly. Say, for example, the tribunal finds that the Claimant’s weekly wage is £15.50 less than you were arguing for. You adjust one cell, then see exactly what the result of the change is. Or your opponent suggests that the tribunal is likely to take this approach and says you should therefore accept £6,000. You’ll be able to see immediately that this is bad argument, since such a reduction will only take the total claimed down to £7,211.05.

Learning to use a new tool always slows you down a bit while you do it, but if you are going to prepare a lot of schedules, this is an essential investment of your time. You’ll soon get the hang of it, and from that point on it will make your life much easier.