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Guest Commentary: The greatest practice management tool ever … possibly

By Gina Drew, Special to Lawyers Weekly

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I am generally an early adopter of technology, and, admittedly, a bit of a gadget snob.

I can’t believe this little gem escaped my radar for almost two years. I’ve just purchased my first Livescribe Pulse Digital Smartpen. As a compulsive note-taker, this pen changed my life (sounds ridiculous, I know) and it will change the way you practice law.

Professional note-takers like lawyers and paralegals know that organizing notes can be an insurmountable task. Not anymore. Never again will you miss an instruction, inflection of voice, nuance of fact or important, detailed information while taking notes on something equally as critical.

The Pulse digitally records your handwritten notes and ambient room audio and links the two, allowing you to tap back through your notes and hear the real time audio that was going on as you were writing them. It all uploads to Livescribe’s Desktop interface, where it can be searched and organized in any number of ways, then reprinted for your client file.

The pen contains a microprocessor that employs a stereo microphone and loudspeaker, along with a camera that digitizes your handwriting. The provided earphones also have multi-directional microphone technology built-in for recording in surround sound mode in deposition and conference room-like environments.

When surround-sound is overkill, the pen’s built in microphone is perfect for one-on-one meetings and courtroom or lecture hall settings.

Using specialized dotted paper for spatial recognition, the Pulse’s camera records your notes and digitally renders them on your Livescribe Desktop. The special paper also has printed controls for recording, creating bookmarks, speaker volume and playback, as well as access to the pen’s menu. Yes, the paper is proprietary, but you can print it with a photo-quality laser or inkjet printer. Though it’s not terribly expensive, an additional benefit I’ve found to using it is that I’m hyperaware of my paper waste, inspiring conservation.

The pen’s functionality is smooth and imperceptible. Written note and audio recording functionality work seamlessly together or separately and can be turned on and off using the controls at the bottom of your notebook pages.

The Pulse connects to your computer through a magnetic USB docking station and automatically syncs to your Livescribe Desktop where the software color-codes and differentiates between notes with and without audio. Using either the pen and your live notes, or the archived notes on your desktop and your mouse, clicking on a handwritten note will play the audio that was taking place at the time the notes were being taken. The playback controls on the digitized paper and desktop user interface allow you to scroll back and forward to listen to the entire discussion preceding and following the taking of your note.

From a practical standpoint, the pen is a little bulky, though not uncomfortable to hold. The smoothness of the ink-to-paper process rivals some of my favorite standard office pens, and the Pulse’s construction is solid and handsome.

The Livescribe Desktop software was a little slow to download and install, but activates quickly once the pen is docked. The pen’s settings can be accessed only through the pen, and can’t be changed through the desktop interface, which is mildly annoying. The pen is round and has a tendency to roll, though this has been corrected in Livescribe’s new Echo model, which also employ’s micro USB connection interface, making it more mobile.

Livescribe provides added value with dozens of apps available in its online store, including handwriting-to-text recognition that works better than you might expect, games, rulers, stop watches, metronomes, scientific calculators and even musical interfaces for piano and guitar. I purchased the 2 GB Pulse model, which holds around 200 hours of audio, but both smart pens come in 4 GB storage capacity as well.

One issue to consider for your clients using this technology is that trade secret and proprietary meetings should probably not be recorded with a smart pen. The information could be discoverable as electronic communication. Because of this, it is probably not the best tool for all industries.

Because notes and audio can be easily shared through the desktop software, this little pen could replace some rather expensive dictation and document-management equipment.

Editor’s note: Drew is a professionally trained trial paralegal who specializes in creating superior web presences for lawyers and law firms. She is the former liaison to the Buncombe County Bar Association and creator and publisher of its print magazine, The Bar Briefs. She created the Legal Trends Network and is developing software for judges to reduce stress and increase efficiency in the courts.

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