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!

Please visit for more information about Harding & Associates Family Law 

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this article. I feel like most lawyers don't offer services like these anymore. I know some Surrey lawyers who offered cross services for clients such as the ones offered here. Thanks again.

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