Friday, December 21, 2012

Visual Note Taking

True story.  Some years ago I was handling a multi-day family law trial.  We were fighting over which spouse would have day to day control of the family owned winery.  I was representing the wife.  The husband was represented by a friend of mine.  He was, and still is, an icon of our family law bar.  He had associated another lawyer who "specialized" in civil trial work (I never understood why because she was not nearly the trial lawyer that he was).  During the trial the husband's family law lawyer and I were sitting right next to each other at the crowded counsel table.  On the third day of trial that "trial specialist" was pouring through financial statements with the husband's accounting expert.  I was bored.  The judge was bored.  Apparently the husband's family law lawyer was also bored.   I looked over at his legal pad, and he was fast at work drawing a sketch of a military jet plane zooming in to bomb a tank.  It was the kind of stuff I remember drawing when I was in the fourth or fifth grade.  What was different was that scattered on the page he had written keywords and brief snippets and notes of the direct examination that was being conducted.

"Having fun?" I whispered in his ear.
"My trick for staying focused" he whispered back, looking at me with a grin.
He saw the quizzical look on my face.  "Sketching keeps me moving.  I am not really aware of what I am drawing.  But somehow it helps me to listen.  When I hear something important I write it down.  Then for some reason the artwork helps me to remember the notes."

This fascinated me.  I tried it.  He watched.  (Note: we both knew what the witness was going to say, so it was not as if I was missing anything, or sharing any secrets with him).  I didn't have my friends forty years of experience as a lawyer, so the "important stuff" wasn't as easily perceptible for me; but the sketching really did not compromise my ability to pay attention to what was going on.  Rather than drawing airplanes and tanks I drew bunches of grapes, and dollar signs, and a tractor like the one they had at the winery....

This was my earliest adoption of visual note taking, and it would become a skill that I would apply to everything I do as a lawyer.  It would also evolve into my adoption of mind maps as a thinking and practice tool.  Some may say I am making an excuse to try and be a comic book illustrator.  I am not.  Visual note taking is a serious tool!

Mike Rohde has written a book entitled The Sketchnote Handbook: the illustrated guide to visual note taking.  In fact, he even has a website and videos dedicated to visual note taking.  His book and website offer solid examples and methods of developing the technique for visual note taking.  If you want to expand the power of your brain, you should check this stuff out.  Click here to visit Mike's website.  This is good stuff!

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Strunk and White Still Rules

As a group we lawyers are not identified as great writers.  Even though writing is the bulk of what we do, our letters, pleadings, briefs, and articles are not always artful.  The plain English movement begs us to write better -- but artful legal writing still remains elusive.

Unfortunately this vacuum of style isn't going away.  If anything, younger lawyers are as awful at writing as their predecessors.  It seems that writing is being neglected in our schools and colleges.

For this post I am going very low tech.  As a liberal arts major in college, reading and writing is what I did.  Tests were essay based.  Homework and class projects were essay based.  We wrote papers.  Written words were the wings that carried me through college.  Beyond religious texts, the bible in my education was The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.  I did two things every day during my student life.  I put on fresh underwear, and I made sure I had my copy of Strunk and White.

In 2011 Time Magazine named The Elements of Style one of the 100 most important books of all time!  As explained in Time:
Reading the “Little Book” is almost like sitting in an elementary English class, which seems to be how the authors intended it. Strunk and White waded through the totality of our vast and complicated language and boiled it down to a terse 105 pages, including a glossary and index.
So powerful, so important, so essential is The Elements of Style, that it has its own Wikipedia article.

Of course there are critics everywhere, and Strunk and White do have their detractors.  I am not one of them.  The Elements of Style is only 105 pages.  Think about that. . . The power to master the written word in such a tiny package!  That is magnificent!  If you don't own The Elements of Style you need to buy it today.  Get the paperback copy.  Read it.  Press it open on your desk while you write.  Refer to it constantly.  Your writing will improve, and so will your lawyering.  You can buy it for ten bucks.  Go to Amazon, or your neighborhood bookstore, and get a copy.

Want a second option, consider  Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges by Scalia (Yes, that Scalia) and Garner.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Amicus Attorney Is In The Cloud

Amicus Attorney is one of the stalwarts of law practice management software ("PMS").  A cloud based version of the product has recently been released.

Amicus going to the cloud could be a good thing, and it could be a bad thing.  Undoubtedly Amicus Attorney will eventually become a cloud only platform.  If you are an Amicus user, or thinking about adopting Amicus keep this in mind.

The new product does require Microsoft exchange for email processing, which could big a big step up for small firms; and some reviewers report that the conversion process can be daunting.  For the most part though the reviews of the Amicus cloud platform are most positive.

Amicus Attorney is created and sold by Gavel & Gown software.  GG has done lots of great things in the PMS biz.  It's transition to the cloud is a big deal.  Over at the Legal Loudspeaker blog there is a great review of the new cloud platform.  Please click here for a visit.  Of course there is also plenty of additional info at the Amicus Attorney website.

Please visit for more information about Harding & Associates Family Law 

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Friday, December 7, 2012

The Best Smartphones & Sprint

I have been using iphones for years now.  I have been more than content, so I have not studied the alternatives, other than to know that there is a lot of great stuff out there.  Which phone is best?  To me that is kind of like comparing pink cotton candy and blue cotton candy.  It's all good!

LG Optimus G from Sprint
That doesn't mean that there aren't other folks out there that do pay a lot of attention to smartphone options.  One of those people is Zach Epstein.  Zach writes for the Boy Genius Report.  He has recently posted his end of year 2012 review of the best smartphones available from Sprint.

Samsung phones dominate Zach's list.  Of course that list includes the iPhone.  Zach also sings the praises of the LG Optimus G.  If you are looking for a new phone, and perhaps considering Spring as your carrier, take a look at Zach's very helpful article.  There are also links to his reviews of the phone available from the other flagship carriers.

Please click here to read Zach's original article.

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Solo nets Supreme Court win!

I know this has nothing to do with technology, but I think it is pretty cool. Andrew Simpson is a sole practitioner in the U.S. Virgin Is...