Replacing the legal pad: Apps for note-taking

August 13, 2012

Technology

JOHN STODDER, MBJ blogger

Taking notes is a critical task for lawyers in all practice areas.

Some would rather write longhand, some would rather type and others prefer to enter text directly into a mobile device, with their thumbs or using a dictation program. Regardless of these preferences, it’s essential that an attorney’s notes are preserved and accessible, and there are apps to serve every attorney’s personal writing style.

To get started, New Orleans attorney Jeff Richardson at iPhone J.D. recommends Wacom Bamboo Stylus for iPad, a digital pen that enables an attorney to enter notes directly onto the iPad. Richardson says: “I like this stylus because it feels good in my hand, but I really love this stylus because of the tip,” the thinnest one he’s tested, resulting in “a noticeably better writing experience.”

With the Bamboo Stylus in hand, attorneys have several drawing/note-taking apps at their disposal. Wacom’s is called Bamboo Paper, a free app downloadable from the iTunes App Store.  Wired’s Gadget Lab called it “simple and good. … The feel of the ‘ink’ appearing under your stylus tip as you write is very natural.” The Wired reviewer also recommends NoteShelf, a program with more features, including the ability to zoom in, for $5.99, and Penultimate, a popular older program with more paper styles but fewer features for 99 cents. And if an attorney doesn’t want to buy a Stylus, all three programs work with your fingers.

But some iPad or iPhone users might not want to scribble their notes; they might prefer to enter them using a QWERTY-style keypad, and then file them.

To address that need, Westlake Village, Calif., attorney Dan Friedlander, on his blog “Law on My Phone,” described a “universal note-taking workflow for lawyers” in a 2010 post that is still relevant today, because updated versions of the same apps can be used.

Friedlander starts with Dropbox, the well-known, cloud-based app that allows a user to organize, access and back up work and other files. Dropbox is free for a basic level of service.

Then, he suggests entering notes on a computer with a simple text editor such as Notepad for Windows PCs or TextEdit for Mac. With these programs, Friedlander advises using plain text to ensure as little formatting as possible.

Next, install the Elements for Dropbox app for the iPad or iPhone, for $4.99. Elements helps create and saves notes, which immediately are also saved on Dropbox. That way an attorney can view, edit and send the document from any device. Notes created on a PC device can also be saved in Elements for access from a mobile device.

Elements allows a user to turn them into HTML or PDF files, which can be emailed either in-line or as attachments. Attorney bloggers can also post directly from Elements to Tumblr or Facebook. Using Friedlander’s workflow, an attorney can be sure that all notes are backed up and accessible on all devices.

 – John Stodder

 

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