Tech Tips, Part I: Experts Share Best Note-Taking Apps and Tactics

Lee Rosen and Erik Mazzone

This article originally appeared in Attorney At Work on March 27, 2015: An excerpt of the article has been reposted here with permission. We will post the remaining two sections over the next two months.

A dream team of law practice technology experts give us their best advice for tackling the everyday tech quandaries that plague us all, to help your practice run just a bit more smoothly.

The first question: “What’s your favorite tech tip for taking notes in meetings — and using them once you’ve written, typed or recorded them?”

Here are this month’s top tips and note-taking apps from the experts.

listenLee Rosen: Listen First, Take Notes Second

Following this tip in client meetings might mean not even taking notes during the meeting itself. Pay rapt attention and get it down later.

If the meeting is with someone other than a client, then listen hard, but get what’s required. Just be careful to keep your note-taking from interfering with your listening.

If you’ve got to take notes, then do it in a distraction-free text editor. (Don’t let your other software pull your attention.) Personally, I like Byword for Mac and Notepad in MS Windows. They’re both simple, plain and easy. Drag and drop your notes to your favorite repository (Evernote, your practice management system, or whatever).

Note-taking is important, but it’s secondary to listening. Listening — hearing what is being said — is an essential element of great lawyering.

simplify-note-takingErik Mazzone: Simplify to Get Things Done

I’ve plugged away with Evernote for years but have reluctantly come to the conclusion that what I need most in a note-taking app is simplicity, not flexibility. Evernote’s Swiss Army knife adaptability is too much for limited organizational abilities. My current favorite note-taking app is the super simple, iOS-only Vesper ($7.99). Vesper gives me everything I need and not one thing extra.

More important than the app, though, is one’s note-taking methodology. A few years ago I came across the Cornell Note-Taking System and grafted on a little of David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I’ve been really happy with this method for a while. Here it is in brief:

I divide the page into quadrants (not equally sized), with one quadrant for notes, one for key points and one for a summary. This is the Cornell method, and I love that it forces me to review my notes to summarize them. The fourth quadrant is given over to “next actions,” which is Getting Things Done lingo for the to-do’s that result from the meeting.

Digital purists may scoff, but for me, paper is still the perfect technology for note-taking. I love having Vesper on my phone for when I’m on the go, but when it’s meeting time, give me a sheet of paper any day.
Okay, maybe I should scan it and store it in Evernote.

About the authors:

Lee Rosen (@LeeRosen) practices family law in North Carolina. His blog, Divorce Discourse, is a three-time ABA Blawg 100 popular vote winner. He is a recipient of the ABA James Keane Award for excellence in eLawyering.

Erik Mazzone (@ErikMazzone) is a practice management advisor and Director of the Center for Practice Management for the North Carolina Bar Association. He writes and speaks widely on legal technology and practice management, in North Carolina and throughout the country.