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Lawyers have an ambiguous relationship with Microsoft Corporation. The software giant has bountifully enriched the antitrust and plaintiffs bar. But the profession hasn’t exactly embraced Microsoft products. Lawyers use Microsoft Word only because their clients require them to. Left alone, they would happily hit Alt+F3 to reveal codes in WordPerfect. Lawyers often say they “live” in Outlook, corresponding with clients and confirming lunch dates at the Four Seasons. But they rarely say they love the e-mail and calendaring program. Microsoft’s two most elegant retail products, Excel and PowerPoint, inhabit a place only in the peripheral vision of most lawyers. Microsoft may have finally written a program for lawyers, although it isn’t aimed specifically at the legal market. Microsoft OneNote helps people take notes on their computer. Note taking is not rocket science, but it occupies a fair chunk of billable hours by lawyers. OneNote has almost all the advantage of taking notes on paper without many of the limitations. It’s much easier to share, organize, and reuse electronic notes than handwritten ones. OneNote also has none of the disadvantages of taking notes on software designed for other purposes. You can type anywhere on the page, without following the top-down, left-to-right regimen of Word. You can add a new note without creating a new file. And you don’t need to save your notes; the program does that for you automatically. Two features of OneNote should appeal particularly to lawyers. The first is audio notes. If your computer has a microphone, you can create a recording that is linked to notes that you type in OneNote. This feature could work perfectly as a supplement to a transcriber at a deposition. Simply fire up OneNote and click “record” at the start of the session. The program will then capture the questions and answers, and � if you are taking notes � the program is synchronizing your notes with the audio. Later that day, before the transcript is available, you can play back relevant passages simply by clicking on an audio icon next to the related text. No more searching for an audio passage by trial and error. The second lawyer-friendly feature requires a tablet computer � a slatelike device that allows you to enter text with a stylus, a penlike device, rather than a keyboard. For lawyers who have never quite enjoyed stroking a keyboard, a tablet running OneNote lets them take notes the old-fashioned way and look edgy at the same time. Pen computing has been around a long time, but it’s always been longer on promise than delivery. Fortunately, handwriting recognition has advanced since the days you had to train software to understand your version of written English and then pray for the best. It was easier to train a puppy than to train the early versions of handwriting recognition software. The tablet version of Windows XP makes huge strides in turning digital ink � as scribblings on a tablet are called � into recognizable text. That means you can write notes on the tablet and then deliver them as text to colleagues or import them into another file. Dennis Kennedy, a respected St. Louis lawyer and technology consultant, says that a tablet computer, loaded with OneNote and wireless access, could be the next killer app for lawyers (see denniskennedy.com/pred2004.htm for details). Even if audio notes and tablet computing are not your thing, OneNote is still worth a look. Microsoft has built a highly flexible tool that does not force you to adopt a certain hierarchy or structure of thought. There are all sorts of software packages to help people outline or brainstorm. (The site, innovation tools.com/tools/softwareheadlines.asp, lists a useful collection of them.) But these programs tend to rely on a certain visual metaphor � often involving radiating lines, connected shapes, or more basic outline structure � that the user must work within. OneNote’s only metaphor is a familiar one: the notebook. You can create folders, which are the equivalent of dividers in a three-ring notebook, and then sections and pages within those folders. On a page, you can easily type a free-form note, or organize it in outline form. Each note is situated in a “container” that can be dropped anywhere on the page or in a different section. You can also drop content from the Web or other programs into a container. If this sounds daunting, it is not. Within minutes, it is possible to be easily navigating through the program, as if it was a dog-eared composition book. OneNote trumps paper notes in several aspects. You can “flag” notes on different pages and then view all your note flags on a pane to the right. Searching across several sections is a breeze. You can also easily export OneNote text to Outlook as a Task, or copy material from OneNote and paste it into a document created by another program. Finally, if your firm has the correct back-office setup, you can create shared OneNote notebooks accessible by several people. Otherwise, you can publish OneNote notes as Web pages on an intranet or send them as an e-mail (but only if you have Outlook 2003). Ron Friedmann, a legal technology consultant and a reformed lawyer, is a fan. “It’s a good tool to capture information in one place that otherwise ends up scattered across Word, Outlook, or other programs,” he says. Friedmann especially likes OneNote’s intuitive outlining features. Outlining is easier to use in OneNote than in Word, and the formatting from a OneNote outline is retained if you copy text into Word or Outlook. “I can indent, out-dent, collapse, expand, and move items with ease,” he says. OneNote doesn’t do anything revolutionary. The notebook-and-tabs metaphor has been kicking around for years. But OneNote has an uncanny combination of power and flexibility. Before creating the program, Microsoft analyzed the notes of more than 500 “information workers,” of which lawyers are an obvious subset, learning that people are idiosyncratic note takers, says Christopher Pratley, group program manager for Word, OneNote, and Publisher. “We tried to accommodate all these different styles,” he says. OneNote has been on sale since last October, at a retail price of less than $100, after a rebate. Corporate discounts are available. (A 60-day trial is available at microsoft.com/office/trial.) Since its release, OneNote has received almost universally positive reviews, including a pat on the back from The Wall Street Journal‘s technology expert Walter Mossberg, who called it a “good idea, well executed.” But Microsoft has not done much to trumpet its arrival, which is too bad. OneNote is a program worth scribbling about. Mark Voorhees is the editor of Corporate Counsel‘s sibling publication AmLaw Tech.

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