Note taking for the Digital Lawyer

> Notetaking


These days, everywhere you turn, there is now a digital representation for things that historically existed in “real” form. From snail mail to email, parchment paper and Word docs, most productivity items have taken on a digital identity. For those that are not aware, the same can be said for digital notebooks.

Lawyers have consistently kept the legal-pad industry in business for ages, and rightfully so. They are incredibly convenient and pack easily in a briefcase, taking up as little room as necessary.

Enter digital notebooks.

There are two major players in the digital notebook arena: Microsoft’s OneNote and Evernote. Both products offer a slick, clean interface and supply a number of incredible features that expand the way we all take notes. This article addresses the similarities and differences of the two, as well as the general applicability these applications can have in your law practice.


Developed in the early 2000s, Microsoft began offering OneNote as an additional software license in 2003. It was not until Office 2010 that Microsoft began bundling OneNote with the entirety of its Office suites. Now, in its current iteration, OneNote is accessible across all devices: Online, PC, MacOS, iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. With this array of device interconnectivity, creating and accessing notes from any device has never been easier.

Microsoft named it OneNote because “OnePlaceForAllYourNotes” was too long. Simply put though, OneNote acts as the one-stop shop of any and all notes you can take. OneNote offers the ability to create multiple notebooks. This allows you to have different notebooks for different aspects of your work (e.g., Case Notes, Seminars, etc.).

OneNote also allows you to create Sections for your OneNote notebooks, offering immense flexibility in your notetaking. These Sections can also be organized into Section Groups, giving the user the ability to more effectively categorize and organize their notes.

Features that really stand out in OneNote are its ability to record audio and video and sync those recordings to your text. So, if you are in a meeting, in deposition, or in court, you could record audio from those events, begin typing, and then review it later by clicking on any note you typed to hear what was being said at that moment.

If you have a Microsoft Surface or other touchscreen enabled computer, OneNote also allows you to handwrite your notes. Embedded in OneNote is the ability to later convert your handwritten notes into text. While touchscreen PCs have yet to totally take over the market, this function could prove increasingly more useful as more companies produce and distribute touchscreen devices.

Lastly, OneNote offers a tagging feature that allows you to “tag” certain notes, giving you the ability to search your notes based on how you tagged them. Out of the box, the tags come from a predetermined list, but can be modified and customized by the user.

If you are considering moving to a digital notebook, or if you have never even considered it, take a look at OneNote and its many features to determine if it is the right program for you.


For those unfamiliar with Evernote, it has been around since 2008. Evernote, much like OneNote, is another app to save all of your notes, thoughts, photos, documents, whatever you want, all in one place.

The basic application is free, and one could find that all the features they need were in the free version. The free version is limited to two devices (computer, phone, or tablet), but Evernote offers premium versions as well for either $3.99 or $7.99 a month that allow you to use it on more devices along with additional features. Evernote, like OneNote, can be downloaded to multiple devices across platforms, and syncs seamlessly between the devices.

As the name suggests, Evernote is best used for note-taking. It has the ability to create separate notebooks, and to then create and edit notes within these notebooks. Evernote is very flexible and really shines in this capacity. Evernote has a very powerful search function, making it easy to find that one thought you want. The ability to write a note, make a to-do list, or save a pdf and have it available on all your devices can be quite handy. It’s certainly nice to take notes at a deposition on your laptop or tablet and then have the note available on your desktop when you get back to the office. On the iPad Pro, Evernote also offers good compatibility with the Apple Pencil, as it has the option to add a sketch to any note. I also tested the audio recording feature on the iPad Pro which worked well, making Evernote useful for impromptu dictation.

Another useful feature in Evernote is the web-clipper application. After installing the Evernote extension into your internet browser, you have the option to save web pages to Evernote as a pdf, save the link as a note, or save a screenshot. This application also had some nice features, like the ability to highlight text on the webpage before saving it. As with everything on Evernote, once saved, your web clipping syncs over the cloud with all your devices.

If you haven’t tried Evernote, it’s a great application to keep your thoughts and notes organized and available. With the basic application being free, it offers great value and certainly is worth a try if you haven’t already.

Jamespractices in the Atlanta office of Boone Law where his practice areas include products liability, medical negligence, wrongful death, and personal injury, as well as commercial and consumer litigation. He is a member of the Verdict Editorial Board and a 2017 graduate of the GTLA LEAD Program. He can be reached at

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