Thursday, April 30, 2009

Treesheets for Law Students

The most interesting thing I've found and been able to try this month is from This is an initially weird spreadsheet/outlining/note-taking tool. I used it last night to take notes. You start out with a cell, or a grid of cells like a spread sheet. As you type the active cell expands. You can nest cells within that cell, or branch out into other cells. It is extremely useful.

It's marketed as "The ultimate replacement for spreadsheets, mind mappers, outliners, PIMs, text editors and small databases". 

I'm not sure if its that functional, but after how easy it was to take notes in Contracts, a struggle in a Socratic lecture, I'm hooked. Forget the legal numbering and outlines in Word, this is much easier to learn and control. 

While my use is not yet this sophisticated, here is their screenshot of the program in action:

The possibilities are there to create an outline that emphasizes important points and allows you to arrange information in a way that makes the most sense for you.  

Very useful, and very intuitive.  I had mastered on the fly notetaking after using it in one class.  The keyboard shortcuts are great and easily referenced.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Crimes Quiz No. 2

The second quiz and second gradable moment for me in law school.  After the first one I realized I was no longer the master of multiple choice, or multi-state if you prefer, questions.  More systematic studying was needed. This has always been a weak area for me. In college, I read the material, reviewed class notes, usually and that was enough.  Now, whether its the novelty of thought and material, or just the sheer volume of material, I'm concerned. One thing I have been sharing with everyone is There is an outline, or multiple outlines for various law classes. If you need examples, or additional materials to study from, they are already prepared.

Any other good tech ideas since the last post? 

Get a good flash drive. Actually get two.  A 2GB or less to backup/recover your computer.  While many computers can boot from a USB drive, most cannot boot from a USB greater than 2GB. You can get a larger one for other files that are not critical, but I would argure that all the things you create in lawschool are going to be critical to you at some point. At some point you are also going to run out of room on the 2GB drive pretty quickly, so get two.

Keep them safe, add a return to sender label. Think about for them.  Add OperaTor to it.  I never thought I'd need to surf anonymously, or get around a locked down computer. Then I needed something from my gmail account only to find that gmail is blocked on the computer lab workstations. The flashdrive and OperaTor got me to my assignment, and printed it out. I would have just used the flash drive to transfer it from the laptop to one of the lab computers, but the laptop chose that moment to have a serious BSOD on boot, twice. I'm thinking about a Mac.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Useful site

A little short post on how to outline...see above.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I'm a month in...and treading water at least

While I'm glad I didn't do this straight out of college, it is difficult with a family. What is a good work life balance? Does that even apply as the economy continues to disintegrate? I don't know, I haven't had time since I started to do much else besides read. My queue has 48 shows as of last night. The organization that I thought would work, hasn't but other things have. Here's a list:
  1. Remember the Milk--This task tool is fantastic for organizing. You can create as many task lists as you want and they can have as many tasks as you need. You can expand on this by assigning due dates and tags to tasks to make search lists with specified criteria. I entered all my reading into class specific tabs with the due dates. I tagged them all as reading and created a search that found all tasks due within the next 7 days tagged reading. No flipping from syllabus to syllabus for me. 
  2. Saving notes/briefs as HTML--This has been a partial success. I don't recommend it for notes as they usually need further editing. For case briefs it's ridiculously handy. You can open all you case briefs for a class in multiple tabs of a browser making it easy to switch cases when necessary. The killer feature is in the browser though. Increase your font size with ctrl|shift|+ so that you can read it at a glance while discussing the case in class.
  3. Anki--this was a late find, thanks to It's basically a flashcard program for your computer, but is also availble for smartphones as well. You type up flashcards, and go from there. 
  4. Cornell Notes Templates--I'm probably not using them quite right, but they are great for organizing class notes and reading notes.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Organization for Classes

How to best organize for law school? What worked in college may not necessarily work in law school. The volume of information received increases exponentially, usually as an inverse to the amount of instruction actually provided. There is no more spoon feeding. Either you are prepared and organized for class or you'll look foolish when the professor asks you about a case. I thought there would be more notes to take, but for example, my contracts class is two hours of questions, both rhetorical and substantive about the cases in the current weeks reading. Questions are usually followed up with more questions. I've started using the Cornell Note taking Method. I like it. Whether it is successful will be shown after exams. 

To keep on top of my reading, tests and other due dates, I've started using Remember the Milk. Initially I didn't get how useful it was. It looked like most other online to do lists. Once I played around with it and read this blog post from Legal Andrew, I realized it was what I was looking for.

I created a list for each class and entered all the reading assignments from each class' syllabus. After entering all the readings and their due dates, I gave them the tag, "readings". Then I created a search list titled "This Weeks Readings", whose search criteria were items tagged "readings" and due within the next seven days. To make RTM search correctly, your search syntax has to be correct. duewithin:"7 days" does not work, dueWithin:"7 days" does. Capitalization is important. I created a similar list for all tests, quizzes, midterms and finals, except I made the time frame of 30 days, and titled it "This Months Exams, Tests, Quizzes" so far it is empty. but it will give me enough time to prepare. The help file is excellently written and it will send reminders as well.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Back to reading, one week complete

So I've finished one week of school. I really like it. My first organizational ideas did not work out. One of my goals is to have a paperless law school experience as much as possible. With 5-20 cases to read each week this semester, printing out all that paper is wasteful. Plus the notes you make are lost if you lose the physical printed case, which is all too likely for me. Filing is not my strong suit. Digital organization is much easier. After trying a few things, I've decided to save my cases and class notes as html files rather than plain docs or pdf's this should make searching them easier and it allows for unbroken reading on the computer screen. We'll see how it goes, I think it will also make review easier as I can keyword search all the html that much easier than a pdf, or a word doc.

Tech tips-- Try Mozilla FireFox, or Google Chrome rather than Internet Explorer. Don't get a net book for your only computer, although they are nice for taking notes in class. No screen to have to look over or around.

Law school tip--don't just write for class, write a blog, write a letter, just write. The more you do, the better you will be.

I criticized TABS3 in public

When I am not in class, I'm also a father, husband and from 8-5, the manager for a law firm.  I read Technolawyer and enjoy it. Recently they published a review I had sent in af a great SaaS app for lawfirms call AdvologixPM. I've gotten mostly positive comments about the article, but a consultant for TABS3 which happens to be the software my firm uses commented to warn about the dangers of SaaS, which do exist and must be planned for. She disclosed that she was a consultant who made her living installing and optimizing TABS3 and PracticeMaster for law firms. She went on to say what great programs TABS3 and it's sibling PracticeMaster are. I personally do not think that this is the case, and replied to her comments generally. Her reply went into the usual consultants spiel of "if only you were fully trained on the product, then you'd know how great it was". I responded more specifically about TABS3 shortcomings and what I really thought about it. The next morning, I recieved a call from the president of TABS3, offering us a free hour of training and asked what I disliked about TABS3. I talked it over with him and am hoping that the training will really help our bookkeeper better use poor software.

There is somthing fundamentally wrong with software if it can support an industry of consultants who install, optimize and train users on the software. TimeMatters, Amicus, and especially TABS3 all have this problem. To be fair, so do non-specific programs like many of the offerings from Microsoft. I have nothing against training and learning how to use software and think that it is usually a great investment, but if it takes outside support not provided by the publishing software company, then it has a problem. Most people will not take the time to learn to use a difficult program well. They also do not want to pay for learning to overcome what they perceive as flaws of the software. How hard is free training to understand? They especially do not want to pay for additional staff training anytime someone is replaced. I know I don't.

This is one of the best recomendations for SaaS in my opinion. All the products I've tried have been easy to use, have good help files, and great support. The support is also included in the monthly subscription. There are no software or installation issues either. They also do not, nor will they have years of legacy code dragging behind them like an anchor. In many ways, legacy code and compatibility with previous versions has been the ruin of many new versions. If Vista did not have to support all the software written for XP, 2000, ME, Windows 97 and Windows 3.1 how much smaller and faster could it have been? It may not have gone back that far, but it's dragging an anchor of old code to the bottom of the OS heap.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Changing back from Wordpress

So, if your curious, wordpress is not good technology.  At least for law students.  I tried it because the name I wanted was taken.  Now it just happens to be a blog that will refer to this one.