Which app to take detailed notes for each project? (long)

Sorry this is so long. I love it here. I love the Mac. I just discovered it after a career on Windows.

I’m a lawyer and am looking for a system to take notes for each project, which for me is each case. There is case management software out there, but they are not right for me. I handle a small number of large personal injury cases. My partner and I have our own filing system for documents. What I’m looking for is something for all my notes about each case.

I’m currently using Word. I put the main metrics for each case at the top (names, key dates, contact information for the client, insurance adjusters, defense counsel, courtrooms, etc). Then everything else is in reverse chronological order. Every time I get or make a phone call, I make an entry and put all the information in a bulleted list during the call. The same goes for notes I take of meetings.

The benefits of this system are that I can keep each notes document in the client’s folder in cloud storage, it’s easy to paste from other Word documents and Outlook, I can quickly search through a client notes file, and anyone else can figure out what is going on with the case in the event something happened to me.

The problem with it is that it’s not organized. I can have a 70-page Word notes file in a big case. Scattered throughout is information that can be a bear to compile when it is time to use it in an organized way.

To complicate things, in a single phone call I often cover multiple issues, for example my client might update me on her condition, a new specialist she is seeing, and that she just remembered an important detail about the injury incident or something someone said to her.

There are so many solutions out there I’m hoping someone will point me in the right direction. I am considering apps like Obsidian, logseq, and Omni Outliner. I have Onenote, but it tends to drive me crazy (perhaps I could learn it better). I’m happy to spend time developing templates, looking for plug-ins, things like that, as I enjoy it. Access to my notes on multiple Macs is essential, and being able to read them on an iPad or iPhone is also important.

I also have another Word document for legal research on each case. If I could integrate that into the same system, it would be a plus. I often copy and paste from the research to a Word document.

Thanks for your thoughts! And thanks to Stephen, David, and Rosemary for this forum and for the wonderful podcast.

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I use Obsidian for all of my notes. The key thing for me is being able to link notes together. I also have a shallow Folder structure to help organize things as well. Obsidian also supports tags which is a 3rd dimension to use for organization, but I don’t use it as much as the Folder and linking.

It will take some upfront time to setup and get used to the software. There is a learning curve, but I’ve been using it for over a year now and I think it is great.

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I have a similar workflow need as a medical expert who often works on personal injury cases.

I have tried just about every type of note software for the Mac.

In the end I keep coming back to internal rich text notes within Devonthink, where I keep my records.

What is nice is that you can easily link to other documents in your case from within that RTF file. Plus you can create RTF file via template or freeform or some combination as you wish.

If there are concepts or references that often apply to multiple cases, you can put the relevant documents in a Group and either duplicate or replicate those documents into your new case.

Bottom line - this system can be as simple or as complex as you need for any given case. And it can easily grow/adapt as you learn new software tricks or tweak your workflow; you can start very simply and do not need to master all the complexities in advance. But if you want to eventually get into .css formatting for pretty output or scripts for automation or a personal Wiki from which to draw references, the capability is all there.

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I like markdown, but i prefer to use rich-text (RTF) for work related notes. Like @rkaplan i also use DEVONthink, because of the link possibility. For personal notes, shared with family members, i use Apple Notes.

I use DEVONthink because of the encryption i provides with sync and because i also store project information in DEVONthink, this makes it easier to bundle project support material in a single place.

Obsidian also provides encrypted sync when you use Obsidian Sync, which i find too expensive for my needs. The ‘new’ markdown editor Obsidian shows rich markup while editing, which might make me use Obsidian for more notes in the future.

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I can envision @MacSparky furiously typing a response and @ismh getting the bell warmed up :joy:.

I imagine needing your system encrypted is a must and that limits your options. If you are wanting to deal with a ton of docs then Obsidian might not work well.

It sounds like DevonThink is in your future.

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Noteplan might be a good fit.

As you move to a Markdown editor, linking and/or tagging will probably help with this.

## Client call [[Jane Doe]] [[2022-08-15]]
- My client might updated me on her [[condition]]
- She is seeing [[Dr. Specialist]], who specializes in [[specialization]]
- She recalled a thing about the accident #important #needs-research
- She related that #witness [[Alice Doe]] said something to her #deposition

becomes

complete with clickable links. That’s in Obsidian, but these features are pretty much universal.

You also might want to look at Curio, a thinking place that supports a lot of law-specific properties, like referencing an item and noting whether it Agrees, Disagrees, etc.

In this example, I’ve right-clicked on Jane Doe’s Case, and am looking at the References, one of which (I made earlier) is to Deposition of Bob Witness, which Agrees with her argument. And of course, I could click the link to jump to the item (which could be a PDF, Word document, photo, etc.). Obviously, I’m not a lawyer, but hope this illustrates the capabilities.

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Firstly, IANAL (and I do not play one in TV). I am a physician and also do a fair amount of case reviews, but sadly have to keep my work product in MS Teams due to work requirements. This is not a good system.

Although I have shifted away from DEVONthink for my own use as it’s just too heavyweight for what I need and I like having everything in Finder folders synced with SynologyDrive, I think it might be a great tool for you.

In your situation I would create a database for each case. As already noted, you could sync between Macs and iDevices using DT’s built in sync and encryption.

I would build a standard groups template for cases, but of course this can be modified as needed for any particular case.

One group would be “Notes” and for each meeting or phone call I would create a note named “note-” so you can easily sort by name and see notes in date order. You can use RTF, plain text, markdown as you prefer. Embedded links can be employed if that helps you. Make the first line of each note a topic sentence, or use markdown headings as topics, and you can search in DT or script as needed for collation and search. I believe DT has tools to generate table of contents which might be helpful.

Another group could be used to store documents, depositions, filings, etc.

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Had to look that one up. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Another vote for DevonThink. I’m on the Board two small non-profits and each has its own DTP database that serves as a repository for all documents, communication, meeting notes, call summaries, links, research / reference material, etc. related to my work for the organization.

Also, DTP is an excellent email archive, which is a huge plus for me. I find it useful to get messages that need to be retained out of my email client and into the repository with everything else related to the organization. (When you archive an Apple Mail email in DTP, you’re archiving the message itself, not a link to the message.)

Notebooks might be another alternative. It doesn’t have DPT’s “AI” powers, but it’s got a full array of writing, note-taking, repository, and organizational tools and a much less steep learning curve. It’s also as robust on iOS as it is on the Mac.

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Thank you all so much for your thoughtful insights and recommendations. And to JohnAtl, that was so kind and generous of you to create those examples.

As far as encryption, I don’t think it’s necessary for me. I don’t store social security numbers electronically, and the rest of my system (office space, hardware, software) is protected by physical locks and passwords. My laptop disk is encrypted in case it’s stolen.

I’m going to spend the next few days processing all this. Thanks again!

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I would recommend looking at Curio from Zengobi. It’s excellent for case/project organisation and has a very responsive developer.

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Another trial lawyer here, if you happen to use the Lit Suite tools (TrialPad, DocReviewPad, and TranscriptPad), I have found a way to incorporate many of my note-taking objectives directly into these apps. If you’d like send me a DM and I can share more. (Happy to share publicly here, but since so many of our fellows are not attorneys, I don’t want to impose on their reading time.) One thing I will say because this process might be useful for other domains, is that, like you I may cover a lot of separate issues during a phone call. I take those bits and put them contextually where they fit, then they arise organically when needed. E.g., witness tells me that defendant was the author of some otherwise anonymous document. I can put a note on the document right in DocReviewPad, along with the date I got the information and who told it to me. It comes up every time look at the document and is not lost in a set of interview notes or yellow pads.

As to other tools, I’ve used OmniOutliner, but it doesn’t feel ideal here.

Apple Notes has been good for a running list of information that I add as the case progresses, like a journal. Probably, the same way I used to do it in Word. I also created a template with headings for key concepts that I use in every case (“Thoughts on Discovery,” “Opening & Summation,” “Motions in Limine,” etc.)

Not sure if any of this is helpful, just some random thoughts. I used to love the old Ecco Pro application for this stuff. Since, it’s demise, I have not found a suitable replacement.

One question, why do you care if the Word document is 70+ pages? If you use headings, you have a great navigation tool, and everything is pretty easily searchable. I only ask, because I keep two types of notes, summary information that is quick-and-to-the-point and readily accessible; and more comprehensive material where I don’t care how long it is so long as I have it and can search it reasonably efficiently.

For the non-lawyers, crossing my fingers that some of this might be useful outside of our narrow domain.

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Would love to hear what you use for your system with synology. Is it just file stores or do you do more to integrate with notes? Are you doing any linking to files on synology (as synology drive has the ability to do this)? It’s not as quick as DEVONthink but I keep going back and forth on this as an option for storing data and using Apple notes or obsidian for notes with the links back.

Depends which features you want most, Obsidian DEVONthink etc are good storage and links. If you value taking notes in rich text formats, attaching images and use both laptops and iPads then avoid DEVONthink. Worst RTD editors I have even used and trying to edit on Mac and iPad will end up messing up your formats. Totally different look and feel amoung OS. I’ve moved tonnes of data out of DEVONthink. Bought and tried lots of apps, all have their pros and cons.

Give Keep It a try Reinvented Software - Keep It for Mac

Agenda is a possibility if mainly notes driven though developers have their own way of doing things, difficult to convince them otherwise. It’s a good note taking app with folders tags mentioned and easy to attach images and format of notes are not messed up when editing on Mac and iPads .

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Thanks for the idea about the LitSuite, it’s definitely something I’ll think about.

Regarding your taking your notes of a conversation and attaching a note to a document that you’ll later use, this requires processing your notes and it’s faster to leave them in their raw note form until I need them. But I can see the benefit of this and I’ll consider it.

I used to love the old Ecco Pro application for this stuff. Since, it’s demise, I have not found a suitable replacement.

Longtime Ecco Pro enthusiast here! I had forgotten it existed until you brought it up. :slight_smile:

One question, why do you care if the Word document is 70+ pages? If you use headings, you have a great navigation tool, and everything is pretty easily searchable. I only ask, because I keep two types of notes, summary information that is quick-and-to-the-point and readily accessible; and more comprehensive material where I don’t care how long it is so long as I have it and can search it reasonably efficiently.

This gets to the essence of my post, because I use Word all day long and it’s the fastest app for me to use to enter notes.

Translating this into a generic project for non-lawyers reading this, let’s say I have conversations with my team, conversations with our supplier, emailed quotes from our supplier, and research about alternate sources and pricing. If I have a 10-page Word document, and I want to know every convo I had with the supplier or every price quote we’ve received, I can tell Word to search for “supplier” or “quote” and I can scroll through the 10 pages and my eye will go right to each highlighted search term.

But when I have a 70-page Word document, this gets to be a bear. I want to be able to see only my notes about the supplier or price quotes or team conversations. Is there a way to do this in Word? If so, my problem is solved.

If not, then I imagine that by taking all my notes in something like Obsidian and using tags for #supplier #quote #team, etc., I should be able to filter my note file to just show me those entries (hopefully).

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I still do the odd search to see if anything might have happened with this. Such a great piece of software (in it’s day at least)

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I inquired to see if I could acquire the codebase one time when NetManage was starting to close it down. I didn’t get very far with them. I just discovered that there’s still an active user group forum for Ecco Pro–it had 99 posts this month! EccoPro@groups.io | Home. Memory lane…

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That is commitment. Had a look. Looks like you can still download it?

I think so; the setup.exe file is downloadable. Some people still running it on Vista machines. Seems like there was an individual who has used ECCO’s plugin development system to upgrade some functionality of the software (maybe as late as 2007) and he (supposedly) even included Lua-language code. Here is an interesting article about Ecco Pro’s history.

I never imagined I’d be waxing nostalgic about software. But man was that program good and rock solid, too. The “Shooter” was revolutionary for its time.

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The kind of surprises me and at same time, it doesn’t at all.

“… a couple of ex-Apple Mac people decided to do just that.”

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