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An amazing note-taking tool for lawyers (and others)

By September 14, 2009Uncategorized

Picture 1 Accurate note-taking is a skill that lawyers first develop in law school.  The challenge is to learn how to capture orally transmitted information in real time.  Developing a system of short-hand is critical, especially for oft-repeated terms.  For example, ‘jurisdiction’ can be abbreviated with a large squiggle J, and statute is usually abbreviated as ‘sttt’.  Contract is ‘K.’  And so on.

The problem is that only so many words can be abbreviated, and there’s a lot of information to keep track of.  Once you head out to practice law it doesn’t get any easier.  Unlike professors, clients aren’t giving well-thought out presentations.  Okay, a lot of professors aren’t either.  But, still, there’s a good chance.

Clients fumble with their words, speak in thick accents and generally don’t care about giving you a structured account of what happened.  So, the best thing to do when you interview a client is to record what they say.  The problem, of course, is that if you only need to find the one passage where you missed a critical point you have no quick way to navigate to that part of the recording.

So what else is a problem?  Well, plopping down a recording device in front of someone is not exactly a conversation lubricant. Granted, they get used to being recorded after a few minutes, but nevertheless I’d rather not have to use a recording device. Or at least not something that looks intimidating.

Hey, you know what’d be cool?  What if you could use a pen that was (1) a recording device, but (2) also captured your writing, and (3) when you tapped it on an area in your written notes it would play the recording of what was being said at that time.  That would be cool, but also totally impossible.

Except it’s not.  If you go to Amazon you can get this ‘smart pen’ for $129.  The deluxe version (which holds has twice the storage capacity) costs $169.  Granted, you do have to buy special paper that costs about $5 for a 100 page notebook (which you can write on both sides of so that you really get 200 pages).  I hope you’re not shrugging your shoulders in dismay that you’d have to buy special paper.  Two seconds ago you didn’t even believe this sort of technology was possible, much less available and easily affordable.

Okay, I let you in on a little secret: you can print your own paper if you have a color printer that can print at 600 dpi.  Of course, that’ll probably cost you more than .3 cents per page.  So you’re probably better off just buying the special paper.

You should also consider this: using this tool for client interviews is just the tip of the iceberg.  You could use this for witness interviews, or depositions.  Yes, you might have to let the recorded parties know you were recording them.  But think of the benefits of having written notes that you can use to quickly locate recorded passages that were said while you were taking the notes!  

This is an amazing tool for lawyers.  Or students, or anyone one who needs to capture spoken information accurately.  I have one and have used it in a variety of setting and it’s performed flawlessly.  I bought one for my new paralegal as a welcome gift, and I know she’ll be very happy.  But, the truth is, it’s a no-brainer.  She’ll be doing client interviews and I want to make sure that she’s able to capture information accurately and easily.

So what is this thing called?  It’s called the Pulse Smartpen from Livescribe, and it’s available from Amazon, and it works with Macs and PCs. So what else do you need to know?  Check it out and I think you’ll be as amazed as I was.  But don’t take my word for it; read the Amazon reviews (scroll down) and see what other folks who’ve bought it and used it think.  

P.S. If you're a practicing lawyer, check out this Law Practice Assessment . After answering a few questions, you'll get detailed recommendations for improving five key areas of your practice.


  • Dottie says:

    It is great to record things to be transcribed later.

  • Dwight Yellen says:

    I used it for awhile and was quite pleased with it. That was until until the battery life started to erode and the start recording “tap” would fail intermittently. So I shelved it.

  • We covered the Pulse Smartpen on February 4, 2009 in our TechnoLawyer NewsWire newsletter. Read our report.

  • Steinar says:

    I love this – one of my favorite tools. Love ability to play back video/audio, save notes as PDF on my Mac, and search notes in the Livescribe app. I bought the 1G version and use the medium moleskin type notebooks. No problems – works great everytime.

  • Charles Jannace says:

    I went to amazon via your link and watched all the videos. As I understand it, this product doesn’t transcribe the audio (a la Dragon Naturally Speaking), it just uploads the audio for review at any time in the future. Am I wrong?

  • Aaron Street says:

    I’ve been intrigued by the LiveScribe for a while, but it’s always marketed as a tool for students, so I’ve been reluctant to consider it for professional use. You have set me straight. I may have to get one now.

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