In Microsoft Office Tips
OneNote for Legal Professionals

The legal pad has served lawyers and attorneys well for many years. I’ve heard people say the computer will be the death of the legal pad, but that has yet to occur. However, with recent changes in technology, touch screens, stylus’, dictation, and “the cloud” I think the legal pad is in for a real fight.

OneNote: Generally Speaking

All standard O365 subscriptions include OneNote. This means O365 syncs all of your notes. Put another way; you can access your notes from any device with a data plan or internet connection. As a result, I can never truly forget my notes at the office (assuming my notes are in OneNote in the first place).

OneNote vs. OneNote 2016

If you’re checking your computer, you may notice two OneNote Apps. This is because there are two. One of them is called OneNote the other is called OneNote 2016. According to Microsoft OneNote is the modern and future app. When you look at some of the things OneNote can do, that OneNote 2016 can’t, you’ll see why. For simplicity, going forward I will only refer to OneNote.

OneNote logo vs OneNote 2016 LogoHandwriting

For the legal pad to really fade away, we need to remove the handwriting obstacle. I want to be on record saying that I love writing and drawing. Some things are just easier to write or sketch. OneNote, when paired with a tablet and corresponding pen, handles this very well. My experience is mostly with the Surface (check out the videos) and its Pen. With a double click of the “eraser,” my Surface Pen opens OneNote, and I’m ready to start taking notes. Two additional features that make this easier is “Hello” which unlocks the Surface though facial recognition and setting up the “Rule Lines.”

Tips
  • Set Pen functions (Single and double click of eraser)
  • Enable Hello (On Surface)
  • Setup Rule Lines (In One Note)

Ink to text

Once you have written your notes, you can select an area and convert your handwriting to text. That is useful if you want to copy paste your notes into Word, Outlook or some other application. This is a fantastic way to get your notes from a meeting converted to text and into a case management system.

While this feature is not 100% perfect, I’ve only had minor issues. The undo button is a lifesaver if the “Ink to text” really screws things up.

Different Pens

While writing, you’ll see that you can quickly change to different pens. This is helpful if you need to highlight something, or need to take a note in a different color. This is very easy to do by just using the pen to “tap” the pen you want to use at the top of the screen. You can even create new pens and keep them on the toolbar.

Extra Space

Have you ever taken a note, then needed to add more space between the line/rows, etc.? For example, your taking notes during a deposition, and you need to return to a previous note and update it. With traditional ink and paper, you can’t so you need to squeeze it in there by writing really small text. However, with OneNote and “Extra Space” you can insert blank space to create room and update that note without squeezing it in there.

Tips
  • Ink to Text for copying notes to other systems without retyping
  • Different pens to help organize notes
  • Extra space also helps organize notes

Features that benefit Legal Professionals

Okay, so these features can benefit other professionals too. But I’ll explain these benefits through legal examples.

Dictate Note Taking

OneNote provides the benefit of dictation. Many attorneys use Dragon or other dictation software that OneNote can replace (which saves you money). However, the advantage of OneNote is that you can dictate your notes into OneNote, those notes are then synced to O365 and converted to text. Then someone in your office, or another office if there are multiple office sites, can copy paste those notes into a document. After some proofreading and editing, you’ve created your legal document!

OneNote Mobile App

The OneNote mobile app is fantastic. I have tested this thoroughly during a two-day conference where I only took my notes with OneNote on my Android smartphone. I will admit doing all that typing through a smartphone keyboard was a bit painful, but other than that I could do everything I need. The ability to take pictures from within the app and save them directly to my notes was one of my favorite features. Also, the mobile app has dictation and audio recording.

The benefits to an attorney are the ability to access notes from your smartphone. Obvious, right? These notes can be updated while traveling and synced back to the office. From the mobile app there are no significant limits to what you would need should you forget your Surface, iPad or other laptop/tablet device.

Lesser Known features

OneNote has some other cool features that are helpful and may benefit you.

Math

For example, you can use the pen to draw a math equation where X is unknown. Then use the “Lasso Select” to select the equation, then choose “Math.” OneNote will then find the answer for you and can show you how it arrived at that answer.

Researcher

Research lets you run a search, not a Google search but same idea, from within OneNote. Then you can save the website and its text to OneNote. I have used this only once since learning about it, but it was helpful. I could research a topic, save those sites to OneNote and use the OneNote search to find key terms.

Conclusion

The fact that OneNote, when paired with a pen and corresponding hardware that lets you write, is a powerful tool. It provides the benefit of writing/sketching, syncing, typing and dictation all in one. OneNote delivers the bonus of removing paper from some workflows.

I still think the legal pad has life left in it, but its time is getting shorter especially as younger generations become the workforce. If you’re not using OneNote, it’s time to start. If you are using, I’d love to hear your experiences with OneNote, good and bad.

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Comments
  • Avatar
    Gary
    Reply

    I’m an immigration lawyer. To me, a key feature of OneNote is that the permissions work similar to those in SharePoint or OneDrive, so you can share a notebook or just a section of a notebook with a particular client. I sometimes share lists of documents needed and case schedules this way.

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