As anyone who knows me knows, I am a bit of an information hoarder. I have backups of backups. I have scans of important or memorable documents and a fireproof safe for precious documents.
One of the areas of my life that had consistently frustrated my hoarding habit was legal research until I discovered Evernote.
The problem with saving legal research is that it's difficult to create a useful taxonomy for the stuff. When saving cases, should I save it in a subfolder in the case I'm working on? That seems logical but then retrieving the case years later will require me to remember exactly what case I was working on when I came across "that one case that stood for [insert legal issue] proposition".
If instead (or additionally), I opt to save it under the legal issue the case stands for, what should I do when the case stands for two important propositions? Kentucky attorneys will obviously know that Steelvest, Inc. v. Scansteel Service Center, Inc. gives us our summary judgment standard in state court. But, it also states that a breach of fiduciary duty is tantamount to fraud. As a consumer advocate, this is an important part of the case. Do I save Steelvest in three places: the client file, the research file on summary judgment, and the research file on breach of fiduciary duty?
I save it to Evernote by emailing it from my online research service using a special email address Evernote provides. When I email that case to Evernote, the .pdf is automatically OCR'd so that a later search for any word in the case will yield results. This means if I can just remember a snippet of language or even what judge decided the case or attorney argued the case, I can search in Evernote and find the case. (I also have a spotless .pdf that I can attach to motions and memoranda.)
Even better, though, than the automatic OCR is Evernote's organizational tools. Evernote gives users the option of placing notes in notebooks (folders) as well as tagging the notes. This means that I can email Steelvest to my Evernote account, save it to a client's notebook, and tag it with the tags "summary judgment" and "bofd" (my shorthand for "breach of fiduciary duty"). Later, I can retrieve that case in one of three ways: I can remember the client notebook the case is saved in, I can find the case by reviewing the cases that have a particular tag, or I can search for the case in the search window using words that are likely in the language of the case.
Lawyer–Nerds should be very excited right now. And it gets better. Are you ready to have your mind blown? Evernote gives you the ability to send a case to a notebook with certain tags in the subject line of the email you send to Evernote. They explain on their blog how this works:
In the subject line of your email, write the title of the note as you want it to appear in your account. In the same subject line, add one or both of the following:
Use @ for notebooks: Use an @ symbol followed by the name of your destination notebook Use # for tags: Use a # symbol followed by the tag or tags you wish to assign. You can have multiple tags just make sure each one starts with an # For example, Subject: Trip to Florida @travel #expense report
Would create a note titled Trip to Florida in my travel notebook, tagged with expense report.
So, in one step, I am able to put a filed, tagged, OCR'd Steelvest into Evernote by emailing it to myself with this subject line: Steelvest @clientname #summary judgment #bofd
This is, to employ some fancy lawyer-speak, bonkers.
Any seasoned advocate will tell you that having a system that will allow you to accrete and retrieve your past legal research will yield wonderful benefits over the course of a legal career. I am totally invested in Evernote as that system because it allows me to easily and usefully create multiple taxonomies of meaning for my legal research. At $5 a month or $45 a year, the premium membership is a basic business expense that every lawyer should happily incur.