7 Reasons Every Lawyer Needs OneNote

Today, there are many different kinds of technology tools to make a lawyer’s life easier. Smart phones and tablets. Legal Practice Management software. Document Management software. Private Cloud platforms. All of which are useful solutions that help attorneys law firms practice better.

Today, lets take a look at another useful tool for lawyers and law firms. One application in particular that should be a staple within every lawyer’s legal technology toolbox: Microsoft OneNote.

7 Reasons Every Lawyer Needs OneNote

The Basics

OneNote is a powerful note-taking and record-keeping application made by Microsoft. It’s part of the broader Microsoft Office suite, and comes in both a full-featured desktop version and a “universal” mobile-device-friendly edition (more on the differences shortly).

While OneNote is useful for virtually any profession or person (your’ s truly included), lawyers and law firms especially will benefit from the functionality this handy tool provides.

At its core, OneNote is incredibly simple to use. You create notes: a page where you enter information you like, free-form. You do this by simply typing or copy/pasting, like you would a Word document, or by hand-writing with your favorite laptop, tablet and stylus.

Each note is date and time-stamped and may contain images, attachments, and more. The flexibility and free-form nature of each note is part of what makes OneNote simple but powerful.

Every note that you create can contain written text, copied text, images, hyperlinks, embedded files, images, diagrams or any combination therein.

You organize notes into notebooks and tabs (just like a physical notebook). While not a replacement for proper practice management or document management software, OneNote is a powerful tool that will undoubtedly complement your practice management and document management solution.

(Check the comments at the end to see how some particularly resourceful lawyers build OneNote into the way they manage their cases!)

OneNote Editions

OneNote was originally released as a traditional desktop application. Like other participants in the Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel, Outlook) it was simply called OneNote 2013, then OneNote 2016, and so forth. Later, Microsoft released a leaner version of OneNote (then called OneNote Universal), which was optimized for mobile devices (most notably tablets) and designed to look and work the same on any device.

Makes sense.

the Universal (mobile) version of OneNote did less than its full desktop counterpart, but was (as the name implied) more universal, and hide a cleaner, sharper look and feel to it. (Notebook tabs, for instance, are on the left side of the interface rather than across the top of the application.) Over the years, Microsoft added more and more functionality to OneNote Universal, working to catch it up to the desktop edition.

Then Microsoft announced it would ultimately stop updating and supporting the “old” desktop version, instead focusing future development on its universal OneNote. This new OneNote is now called, simply… OneNote, and the older, soon-to-be-sunsetted version is called OneNote 16. (Yes, its unnecessarily confusing. Microsoft is no stranger to fluid and befuddling naming conventions.)

This is why you see two OneNote shortcuts in your Windows 10 start menu, in case you’ve ever wondered.

About the Author: Dennis Dimka
Dennis Dimka is the CEO and founder of Uptime Legal Systems, North America's leading provider of technology, cloud and marketing services to law firms. Dennis is the author of Law Practice as a Service: How and Why to Move Your Law Firm to the Cloud, and was an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist in 2016. Follow Dennis on LinkedIn.

18 comments on “7 Reasons Every Lawyer Needs OneNote”

  • I’m trying to decide whether to use Evernote or OneNote, and your article was helpful. I started using Clio in my four-person office, and while I love many aspects of it, I haven’t been happy with the way it doesn’t interact with Outlook365 and Quickbooks. My partner thinks we should ditch Clio. What would you do?

  • Hi Dennis. Great article. I do have a question. I was wondering if you could send emails from a Microsoft Outlook account into specific tabs in a notebook. EX: in your Smith v. Jones matter, could you send all of your Outlook emails related to Smith v. Jones to the specific page? Thank you.

  • I actually took this a step further and use OneNote replacing my CRM altogether. Back in the 90’s I was a big fan of Gavel & Gown’s Amicus Attorney. I ran my entire law practice around it. By associating contacts with matters and events and everything inbetween, it was as near a perfect solution as I thought I could ever get. But then technology changed, and Amicus did a horrendous job of keeping up. Plagued with bugs in every release, and trying to appease the larger law firms (leaving many of the bread and butter smaller firms in the dust) it was no longer a cost-effective or efficient option for a one or two lawyer law firm (I’m a solo practitioner). I moved to Evernote and only recently migrated (still migrating data) to OneNote because of hard limits on Evernote and inflexibility in ability to structure organization. HERE’s HOW I use OneNote to actually MANAGE my law practice:
    1. Set up a separate Notebook for each client matter (though you could set up one notebook for each client — I prefer the form since it allows greater organization within a matter).
    2. Using an estate client by way of example, I will then set up the “sections” in the client notebook, as something like: section 1: People in this File (“Players”) –> the I create a separate note for each Player, and I log all of my calls to/from that person; section 2: Status Report >> I create a separate note for each development and am able to eg., insert emails or copies of documents related to the event (you can either instert a clickable pdf or have the document itself sprawled out in all its glory right in the note; section 3 I usually have timesheets (YES, I know it’s probably more efficient to use a dedicated time/billing program — I still use PC LAW but don’t always have access to it on my phone for example or when I, in the field, so this is a great place-saver to insure I don’t lose time) –>> the beauty of using notes for timesheets is you can import an excel sheet (something you cannot do with Evernote) and use it to tally up time; setion 4 I may have legal research pertaining to a matter, and so on.

    You can have active notebooks open in OneNote if you are dealing with several client matters in a day, and temporarily shut the others down if you won’t be dealing with them on a given day. Something you really cannot do in Evernote. In Evernote, it’s all or nothing. You can order those notebooks anyway you like by dragging and dropping (you cannot do this in Evernote — you have to invent some sort of numerical ordering and then sort by first to last – very clunky)

    The interface is much nicer and slicker in OneNote. Over all, Evernote is faster, but the short difference in speed does not affect my workflow. And there are no limits on number of notebooks (Evernote had a hard 250 notebook limit although shortly after I complained and decided to migrate, coincidentally, they upped that number to 1000

    OneNote is basically a free product. Anyway – hope these comments help, from someone that is ALL-IN on OneNote.

    • We have one OneNote notebook per client, organizing within that sections (tabs) for matters, communications, and billing records. One section we “share” with clients–it contains the case schedule and case-related documents, so clients can see the next steps expected of them and see what documents we need them to provide.

  • I’m an immigration lawyer. To me, a key feature of OneNote is that the permissions work similar to those in SharePoint or OneDrive, so you can share a notebook or just a section of a notebook with a particular client. I sometimes share lists of documents needed and case schedules this way.
    OneNote provides the benefit of dictation. Many attorneys use Dragon or other dictation software that OneNote can replace (which saves you money). However, the advantage of OneNote is that you can dictate your notes into OneNote, those notes are then synced to O365 and converted to text.

  • I love your law firm tips about getting the notes in order. That makes sense considering you want to have all your notes in the right order. I’ll have to consider your tips so that I can get the best law firm.

  • I find OneNote very useful in my practice, especially with an iPadPro. The problem, however, is that, practicing in a medium sized firm, the firm uses a document management system (NetDocuments) for filing emails and documents and moving notes in OneNote to the central file system (i.e. document management system) is a clunky manual process of exporting pages from OneNote to PDF and then uploading in the document management system. I have experimented with several methods attempting to automate the process but have found no viable solutions. Has any found a solution for this?

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