Taking Better Notes

by Alexa Drago on July 29, 2019

By: Michael L. Goldblatt

Originally Published on Blumberg Blog on September 11, 2018

Printed with the permission of www.Blumberg.com/blog and BlumbergExcelsior, Inc.


Note-taking is an acquired skill that helps people improve recall and process information. Luminaries like Richard Branson, Bill Gates, J.K. Rowling, and Sheryl Sandberg have used note-taking to advance their careers.  Read on for tips and tools to improve your note-taking techniques in your practice.

Using Notes

Note-taking promotes listening and learning. It is useful for recording information during conferences, depositions, meetings, and seminars. It is also useful when phoning, researching, and preparing for trial. After concluding a note-taking session, review your notes to organize thoughts, calendar tasks, create checklists, and assure that things get done.  Periodically review notes to refresh your recollection and follow-up on action items.

Analog Tools

Although some note-takers prefer typing, studies show that writing notes with pen and paper increases comprehension because it forces note-takers to slow down, focus, and think. Simplicity is also an advantage of handwritten note-taking — log-ins are not required and multi-tasking (e.g. checking e-mail) is not a temptation. Analog alternatives include outlining, diagramming, and dividing pages into columns. To accommodate different note-taking styles, legal pads and wirebound notebooks are available in a variety of rules, spacings, and margins that are suitable for counselors and litigators.

Digital Tools

Several digital tools are available to facilitate keyboarding, keyword searches, online saving, and sharing with others. Word processing software like Apple Pages and Microsoft Word can be used for note-taking on desktops, laptops, and mobile devices. Note-taking apps like Apple Notes, Evernote, Google Keep, and Microsoft OneNote can be used for note-taking on smartphones and tablets. Digital pens can be used to write notes on Apple’s iPad Pro, Microsoft’s Surface, and pen-friendly PC’s. “Smart” notebooks like Moleskin’s Smart Writing Tablets, Rocketbook’s Wave, and Wacom’s Bamboo Folio can be used to write notes on special paper and then transmit them to others or to online storage.

Audio Tools

Audio recordings free users from handwriting and typing notes. Single-purpose apps for recording with smartphones include Apple’s Voice Memo, Griffin’s iTalk, and Searing Media’s Parrot.  Dual purpose apps that facilitate recording and transcribing include Audionote, Evernote, and Microsoft’s OneNote. For heavy-duty recording, consider using a dedicated voice recorder made by Olympus, Phillips, or Sony.  Although smartphones are useful for occasional recording, dedicated voice recorders are more versatile and have better recording quality, longer battery life, and greater storage capacity. Also, smartphones can only capture voices within 3 feet of the phone.  Transcription software like Dragon Naturally Speaking can be used to transcribe recordings into text.


Whether note-taking on paper or a digital device, index your notes by numbering the pages and writing a table of contents on the first page. Carefully save your notes so they are accessible when needed.  Alternatives for saving paper notes include using separate legal pads for each client, storing notes in binders or folders, and retaining them in a computerized database. Paper notes can be scanned into PDF’s to facilitate search and retrieval of information. Scanning can be accomplished with a computer or smartphone and the resulting PDF can then be uploaded to a storage service. Storage services like Google Drive and Evernote use optical character recognition to facilitate text searches.


Read about the Cornell Note-Taking System at the Cornell University website. Cornell’s System uses two columns – the right column for notes and the left column for action items, key points, and follow-ups.  The System uses the bottom of the page for a summary.  To learn more about note taking apps, see reviews in PC Magazine and Lifewire, or read practical books like Evernote as a Law Practice Tool (ABA, 2017) and Microsoft OneNote in One  Hour for Lawyers (ABA 2016). For CLE credit, take the ABA online course titled NoteTakers and List Makers: How Evernote and Other Data Management Tools Can Benefit Your Practice (ABA, 2018).


Note-taking is essential for success in the law office and the courtroom. Notes facilitate processing and retrieval of information gathered during discovery, meetings, research, and trial preparation. They enable note-takers to comprehend and retain spoken words. Use the tips and tools mentioned in this article to improve your note-taking. Experiment with different alternatives to determine which is best suited to your work style.


About the Author

Mr. Goldblatt has authored numerous books and articles about marketing for lawyers.

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