laptop with paper filesThis is the second post in my series on why lawyers should use Evernote. My last post served as a series overview and gave a few examples of how attorneys can save time with Evernote. This post is going to look at setting up your Evernote file system for maximum efficiency as well as mistakes attorneys make when using what I consider one of the best apps there is. This is an important part of the discussion because, like with most things in life, if you get off on the wrong foot then you’re likely to have problems down the road. Starting in the right direction will help ensure efficiency increases as well as your profits, which flow from your becoming a productivity animal. Let’s get organized!

If you’re reading this article then I’m assuming we’re past the “what is Evernote” discussion. As you know, it’s a digital filing cabinet/note taking system where you can create “notebooks” to hold data and then “tag” notes with a designation so you can quickly find them. A lot of law firms start using Evernote and saving everything imaginable into it without really thinking about the organization aspect. If you were starting a law firm them you wouldn’t just start throwing all your documents into one giant box with sticky notes attached (or at least I hope you wouldn’t). You would site down and make a methodical plan for filing items so that they can be quickly retrieved. Well Evernote is a filing system, so before you even start using it you need to come up with a plan.

Lawyers should take a “less is more” approach with Evernote

less is moreBy “less is more” I mean that you should use relatively few notebooks in your Evernote account and make good use of the tagging feature. Let’s say, for example, you keep notes after every court hearing or important case development. You wouldn’t want to have a separate notebook for each client with that client’s notes saved in it. Instead, you would want one notebook, called “notes,” where you would save the notes on all your cases. You would then tag each note with the respective client’s name. When you want to view the notes for a particular client then all you do is select “notes” folder, filter the folder by the client’s tag, and voila, you’re viewing all your notes on that particular client. This is a two click process that takes all of 2 seconds. Keeping your number of notebooks to a minimum is the best way to prevent your file system from feeling cumbersome.

Most attorneys make the mistake of over-using notebooks and under-using tags in Evernote. They create a notebook for every client or, worse, create multiple notebooks for every client (such as “client A correspondence” and “client A pleadings”) as a way to further classify things. The reason why attorneys do this is understandable; they’re setting up a system which mirrors what one would do with a paper file. Paper files are, after all, what one knows and people tend to follow methods they already know. The problem with this approach is that it creates “clutter.” The more notebooks you use then the more you have to sort through just to find something. You’ll also find that using an excessive number of notebooks leads to a slower workflow; you’ll spend an increasing amount of time figuring out which notebooks something should be stored in. There are a number of other reasons why using too many notebooks will kill your productivity but I’m sure you don’t want to read my manifesto opinions on the topic.

I would suggest using the following notebooks along with tags for each client (in other words, tag every note):

  • Correspondence (a later post will discuss how to make Evernote your paperless correspondence file)
  • Pleadings
  • Discovery
  • Notes (for everything that doesn’t fit into one of the notebooks above)

I consider myself a power user of the service and I have all of four notebooks. My work-related notebooks are “notes,” “correspondence,” and “client leads.” I also have one notebook titled “personal” where I keep things that aren’t work related. In the first year or so that I used the service I made the mistake of using way too many notebooks. I think it was 2011 when I took a weekend to consolidate those notebooks and make better use of tags. I haven’t looked back since.

Lawyers err by not seeing Evernote as a “re-imagined” file system

creative solutionsOne of the biggest mistakes attorneys, and people in general, make with technology is to try and hold on to the past. Have you stopped to consider the extent to which modern digital solutions have user experiences modeled after their non-digital predecessors? For example, why does the file system in Microsoft Windows resemble the folder structure you would use in a filing cabinet? The answer is that people are used to filing cabinets and they want something to equate it to; individuals are resistant to change and won’t adopt technology that radically departs from what they know. The problem with this is that modeling a digital solution, on a non-digital approach, can carry over the same inefficiencies which the modern software is meant to solve. The example I gave above, of using too many notebooks, is because attorneys are setting up Evernote in the same way they would set up a paper filing cabinet. If you want to super charge your productivity then avoid the trap of modeling your digital solution on non-digital methods.

Rather than saying “this is how we organize our paper files,” and setting up Evernote to mirror that method, you should recognize that paper files and Evernote are very different things. Your goal should be to create a file system which allows you to retrieve needed information as easily as possible. Using fewer notebooks, and more tags, will get you there.

In my next we’ll look at how you can easily use Evernote to create a paperless law office.