The minimalist interface belies the complexity. You can do a lot with Notion, which is both a boon and a curse. It helps to have a reason to use it, but likely you or your firm may not be seeking to replace or disrupt the tools you already use. The question is, could you reduce the number of tools the firm uses and have it all in one place? That is the problem Notion is trying to solve.
Headquartered in San Francisco, the pandemic and need for a single collaborative workspace catapulted Notion. They went from 2 million users in 2019 to 20 million users by October 2021. Eighty percent of their users are outside of the United States. Their team grew from 40 to 200 and they were valued at $10 billion—unicorn status. Notion’s primary competition comes from Microsoft Teams, followed by Slack. They acquired automation tool Automate.io, a Zapier competitor, to connect users with tools specific to their work. There is an API in beta, though the integration with other products is still quite light.
There is a free personal version of Notion to “organize every corner of your life.” You get unlimited pages and blocks and can share with five guests. Personal Pro is $4 per month when billed annually and includes unlimited file uploads, unlimited guests and a 30-day version history. Team is $8 per user per month when billed annually and includes collaborative workspaces, sharing permissions and admin tools. There is an enterprise version with single sign-on, advanced security and controls, and a dedicated success manager.
Each version includes web, desktop and mobile apps, as well as a web clipper. All versions also include 50-plus starter templates. While there is no support for the free version, there is a robust Reddit community, as well as guides and tutorials.
Notion combines elements of Microsoft Teams, Google Docs, and project management apps like Asana and Trello, Evernote and OneNote. Notion does not have chat, video calls or audio calls like Microsoft Teams or Slack, though you can integrate with Slack. Notion is based on a writing model, like a mash-up of a wiki and Google Docs, without the sometimes confusing and often hectic communication in chat via Teams or Slack.
Sign up for a free account to get a sense of whether Notion would work for you or your firm. You can use it through any browser or install the download on a Mac or Windows desktop and get the mobile app for iOS or Android. There is a web clipper for Safari, Chrome and Firefox to let you add any page you see online to Notion. With the clipper you grab the page and add notes or turn it into a task.
Once you have your tools in place, go to Notion and add a page. You can give the page a title and then just start typing. You can add formatting like headings and bullets. You can add comments or other users can comment. Other users can add text anywhere in the page, like a wiki.
Each page has blocks. In addition to text-based content you can add a table. Tables are like smart spreadsheets or simple databases, like Microsoft Lists. You can also add a Kanban-style board, a calendar, a timeline, images, video, audio, or embed a link to a document or upload a document from your computer. You can also add a to-do list.
Boards, lists, timelines, tables, galleries and lists all are database elements. Each of these elements are extremely configurable and you can filter, sort and search them. You can also create custom views. These elements can be duplicated, shared or saved as their own page, and also locked.
You can create pages and sub-pages and organize them any way you like them to appear in the left column. You can also link pages and sub-pages to each other.
You can tag content or use the @ symbol to add deadlines to any text, call out a person or call attention to another page. To easily see all your options, just type the “/” (forward slash) and the menu pops up.
Sounds a bit overwhelming, right? Fortunately, you can get some ideas and some preconfiguration help with templates. In the left column of the Notion interface click “Templates.” There are no templates for legal professionals but there are for marketing, human resources, sales or personal. Under the “Other” templates you will find samples for docs, team home, team tasks and a task list. You can choose a template and then edit it to suit your needs. If you are feeling generous you can even share one that you develop.
If you are just kicking the tires with a free version of Notion, look at the personal templates. You can add task lists, a journal, goals, a travel planner, a habit tracker, a weekly agenda or others.
Want to create a task list? Choose the “Task List” template. The default view is a Kanban board configuration but if you prefer a list just go to “View” and choose “List.” You can toggle between the Board view and the List view. You can also add a Calendar view.
When you add a new task you will give it a title, a status (the Kanban “swimlanes”), and then you can add additional fields or properties. You can add a due date, assignments, drop-down menus, files—pretty much as many as you like! Then you can add comments with attachments and @ mentions for people, pages or dates.
You can organize where your task list is located, share it with others, look at the page history, export it as HTML or PDF, connect it to a Slack channel and more.
If you are already using tools like Google Docs, Evernote, Trello or Word or if you have CSV (spreadsheets), you can import them as a page. Just open a new page and click the ellipses at the top right and choose “Import.”
Law Firm Use Cases
While there are no legal-specific templates, law firms can certainly come up with ways to use Notion. For instance, there is a Sales CRM (customer relationship management) template under the Sales grouping to track leads and customer interactions. You can change views to identify high-value deals and add as many fields to the database as you want. You can use the Blog Post template to share ideas and work on posts in draft. You can keep your meeting notes. You can create trial strategy pages. You can store articles of interest and legal research. You can create a content calendar under the Marketing template. Create a firm wiki or cookbook to document processes. Develop a new hire onboarding page. The notion behind Notion is that you have one very flexible space to track, document and share everything without the stress of email or messaging.
In the settings you can control how you receive notifications—via mobile push notifications or email. You can connect a handful of apps including Slack, Google Drive, Trello, Evernote and Asana under “My Connected Apps.” You can also add integrations with Zapier, Automate.io and IFTTT.
In addition to the need for an all-in-one collaborative and flexible workspace brought on by the pandemic, people and businesses are ready for new ways to work. Using poorly designed tools or products that do not allow for flexibility, and the constant strain of checking for new messages or feeling like you are out of the loop has caused an upheaval in application development. One of Notion’s major rivals is ClickUp. Another California start-up, ClickUp includes time tracking, email, mind maps and more. ClickUp is more focused on project management, while Notion is stronger for writing, planning and organizing. Microsoft recently introduced Loop, formerly Fluid, the new Office app for the hybrid work era. It includes blocks of collaborative Office content that can live independently or be shared/copied/pasted. The product has been in development for nearly 18 months and components are slowly rolling out in Teams, Outlook and OneNote.
Whether your team is mobile, hybrid or just needs a better way to collaborate in a single space, there is a great appeal to Notion. The hardest part about using the tool is breaking out of the preformatted and rather stiff structure that has been the pervasive model of software and app development. Being given almost infinite flexibility is intimidating, but evidently based on the adoption and valuation they may be onto something. Come up with a use case or two, get a free account and share it with your coworkers, family members or colleagues, and see if Notion is right for you.