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Thursday Thinkpiece: Evernote as a Law Practice Tool

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Evernote as a Law Practice Tool

© 2017 American Bar Association. All rights reserved. Slaw readers can receive a 10% discount on purchase of this book. Use the discount code ENOH1 at checkout; this offer is valid from 2/9 – 5/9.

Heidi S. Alexander, Esq. (@heidialexander) is the Director of Practice Management Services for Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, where she advises lawyers on practice management matters, provides guidance in implementing new law office technologies, and helps lawyers develop healthy and sustainable practices.

Excerpt: Section 5.5 – Productivity and Time Management

By providing a central repository for data, remote access, and quick capture, Evernote acts as a productivity tool for lawyers. This section provides a few specific ways in which Evernote can help lawyers better manage their time.

Read Later

How many times have you come across an e-mail or web article that you’d like to read, but haven’t had the time? It’s impossible to stay on top of all the reading you need to do. With Evernote, you can quickly capture reading for later with the Web Clipper, e-mail, or print to Evernote/import folders and categorize your reading with tags. Either you can create a dedicated notebook to store your items for reading later (Read Later), or you can save reading in multiple folders and use a read later tag for search purposes. No matter which way you choose, when you have some time, whether you are at your office or on the go, all of your reading will be waiting for you in Evernote.

Checklists

Evernote’s checkbox formatting feature is perfect for creating checklists. You can use checklists in your practice for tasks, procedures, marketing, and processes specific to your practice area. For example, create a Blog Post checklist that contains the steps you need to take when you post to your blog—draft post, add images, finalize post, post to blog, post to social media, and include in a newsletter. Use this checklist as a template and then copy it to the appropriate notebook (i.e., Blog) each time you need to use it. Now, rather than remembering to do each of these items, you can check them off one by one when you’ve accomplished them or collaborate with staff members so that you know when each one has been completed.

Checklists work well for administrative procedures such as conflict checking and practice-area processes such as filing a trademark or drafting and filing a 12(b)(6) motion. Of course, you can also use checklists for your to-do items. Each client notebook could have its own to-do list. Keep your to-do list at the very top of the note list by titling it !To-Do. As long as you sort your notes alphabetically, the punctuation will ensure that your to-do list is consistently filed at the top of the list. Figure 5.21 shows a sample checklist notebook with notes.

Figure 5.21
Checklist Notebook Sample with Notes (click image to see larger version)

Getting Things Done

If you are a fan of David Allen’s popular task management method, Getting Things Done (GTD), Evernote provides an excellent way to implement it. If you are unfamiliar with the methodology, it is a highly effective time and information management technique for lawyers. The method works in five simple steps, which Allen describes as “apply[ing] order to chaos”: Capture, Clarify, Organize, Engage, and Reflect.

The Capture phase begins with a collection of all items you need to get done. You must then Clarify or process what action should be applied to the item. For example, it could be trashed, filed for later, delegated, or, if it takes less than two minutes, completed immediately. The third step, Organize, is when you take that action you defined and move it to the proper category (called a “context”) so that you know precisely what it needs when you return to it. For example, if it is an action that requires a phone call, then move it to the category Calls. Now it’s time to do some of those actions, or Engage. Finally, you must Reflect upon your lists by reviewing them on a regular basis. For a complete overview, take a look at Allen’s website: www.gettingthingsdone.com. As with everything else in Evernote, there is no proper way to set it up for GTD. A number of authors, including Allen, have produced guides for using GTD with Evernote, each with a different suggested setup. Based on research and my own use of Evernote with GTD, I propose the following. While this setup (or any other, for that matter) may not be perfect for you, it will give you some ideas for tailoring Evernote to your own GTD system. Here’s the setup based on Allen’s five core concepts.

Capture

Begin by collecting items in your default notebook (!Inbox). This should require very little thought, and as discussed previously, information can be dumped easily into Evernote via e-mail, Web Clipper, or by creating a new note from your desktop, mobile device, or wearable.

Clarify

Make it a habit each morning to process your tasks in your default notebook. To remind yourself, add your default notebook (!Inbox) to your shortcuts. Delegate any items as necessary, complete any tasks that take less than two minutes, and convert those remaining into actionable items.

Here’s one example of how to process tasks into actionable items. Say you’ve forwarded an e-mail regarding a bar association article you’ve agreed to write; then, break that up into actionable items—research, outline, draft, and finalize.

Organize

After processing and defining the actionable tasks, you need to sort them. I suggest using both notebooks and tags for this purpose. Tags work well for today, next, someday/maybe, waiting for actions, and context-specific actions such as anywhere, calls, work, home. Thus, you can assign multiple tags such as today, as well as anywhere. Tasks should also be moved from your default notebook to another notebook, which might be a work notebook, personal notebook, or project-specific notebook.

For example, say you’d like to organize the aforementioned tasks for the bar association article (research, outline, draft, and finalize). Move the tasks to your project-specific notebook Writing – Bar Association, and give the tasks tags such as today, next, and work. If you’d like the tasks sorted in a particular order, then use numeric prefixes to do so (i.e., 01 for research, 02 for outline, 03 for draft). Now you’ll have all your tasks associated with the writing assignment in a notebook for reference, but you have also assigned the tasks to tags so that you know when and where you need to get each one done.

Engage

Engaging or doing primarily relies on your tag lists. I would recommend pinning, at least, your today tag to your shortcuts. You’ll work from your today shortcut on a daily basis. It’s essentially your daily to-do list. With Evernote search, you could also further refine your today list by searching for context tags (or even creating a saved search with, for example, today and work tags for things you need to get done at work today). Evernote reminders are also helpful for keeping track of items with a due date in the future. Rather than dump all your tasks into the next tag, place them into project-specific notebooks and assign reminders so that you’ll know when you need to move them to your today or next list (depending on the task’s urgency). For example, if that bar association article is due six months from now, set up a reminder for when you’d like to start working on the note (maybe in four months). Once that reminder appears, it’s time to tack on a today or next tag. Reminders also work well for recurring items that you don’t want sitting on your next tag list in perpetuity, and for waiting for items so that you don’t lose track of them.

When you finish with a task, there are a few steps you can take: (1) if you don’t need it any longer, delete it completely (it will still reside in your Trash until you empty it); (2) if you don’t need it associated with a certain project, but may need it for future reference, place it in an Archive notebook; or (3) if you still want it available, just remove the tag today and it will continue to reside in whatever notebook you’ve assigned it to, but it will no longer be on your to-do list. View Figure 5.22 for a sample setup of GTD in Evernote.

Using the earlier example of a bar association article, when you have finalized your article, give it a name that’s consistent with your naming conventions (i.e., 2015-11-01 E-Discovery in Employment Litigation), add tags (i.e. bar association, publication), and move it to your Archive notebook (see Figure 5.23). You can also do the same with your research and outline, if you wish to save those materials for reference.

Figure 5.22
Example Setup of GTD in Evernote (click image to see larger version)

Figure 5.23
Archive Notes (click image to see larger version)

Reflect

As with any GTD system, a review is essential. I recommend conducting a weekly review of today, next, someday/maybe, and waiting for tags. Upon your review, you might decide to reassign a tag or delete a task altogether. I would also recommend conducting a review of your project-specific notebooks, on a regular basis, to be sure your tasks are organized appropriately. Conducting a review can be time-consuming and also easily forgotten (or ignored). To ensure that you do it, create a note entitled “GTD Review” and then add a recurring task. Remember that Evernote doesn’t have a recurring task feature, so after you’ve completed your review, set another reminder for the same date/time the following week. This system works well because until you complete your review and set a new reminder for that note, the current reminder will appear at the top of your reminder list.

 

Comments

  1. This really looks like a helpful guide to moving a practice to the digital age. I note though that shipping costs are double the cost of the book – any idea if this book is available in e-book form?

  2. Gerald: Best I can tell, it’s not available on kindle or epub. Not all ABA publications are available via Amazon.ca, but when they are (as this one looks to be shortly), that may help to reduce the cost of shipping to Canada:

    https://www.amazon.ca/Evernote-as-Law-Practice-Tool/dp/1634254163/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1486668417&sr=8-1&keywords=evernote+alexander

  3. Gerald: Thanks for your interest in my book. Unfortunately, it is not available as an e-book. But, that’s my hope for the next version! As Steve indicated, the book will be available soon via Amazon. Feel free to connect with me via email if you have any other questions: heidi at masslomap dot org.

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