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Law Technology Today


LTRC Roundtable Discussion: Personal Knowledge Management

Thomas L Mighell, Dennis M Kennedy, Allison C Johs, Alan Klevan, John Loughnane, and William D Goren


  • ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center board members answer questions about personal knowledge management.
LTRC Roundtable Discussion: Personal Knowledge Management Strathdee

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As the name implies, Personal Knowledge Management is about collecting and managing information that is important to you personally, not necessarily research or other resources you might gather for your firm's use. This roundtable highlights useful tools for personal management from legal professionals.

Our Panelists:

Tom Mighell (TM), Dennis Kennedy (DK), Allison Shields (AS), Alan Klevan (AK), John Loughnane (JL), and William Goren (WG).

What types of information do you collect for your own personal knowledge management?

TM: I primarily save articles and highlights from books I am reading, and sometimes will save entire websites if they are useful for personal reference. I find I don't take as many notes outside of work as I used to, but occasionally I will take notes from conferences I attend or other online events. Sometimes I will take my highlighted books and articles and make notes about that content, which helps me to develop my own thinking on and understand of the subject.

DK: All sorts of different things: bookmarks, PDFs, screen captures from webinars, links to videos and audio, liked items from Twitter, and my own notes, reflections, and ideas.

AS: I collect a whole host of different kinds of information including articles, websites, images, links, videos, quotes or excerpts from books or other sources, forms, templates, checklists, and more.

AK: I am a sole practitioner handling only one type of legal matter. Rather than having an app to collect and manage information, I have created folders that I keep in my Explorer database, such as “Case Law,” “Seminar Materials,” “Research,” and the like.  I have sub-folders in these folders dealing with specific aspects of the law or seminar.

JL: Like most people, during  the course of any particular day I come across  numerous items of interest in news reports, podcasts,  group chats/emails or elsewhere.   Information flows fast and furiously but my capacity to absorb and leverage in real time is very limited.

WG: I read the print version of the Wall Street Journal and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, CNN app, Facebook news feed, ESPN app, MLB app, LinkedIn, Law 360. Voracious reader of books.

How do you typically collect information for your personal knowledge?

TM: I use a combination of tools, which all funnel into a single repository. I use Pocket to read and highlight articles and web pages, and I just use the Kindle app on my iPad to highlight books that I read. When I hear something in a podcast that I want to save, there's a very cool app called Airr that you can use to capture snippets of a recording. That's a lot of places to collect information, and it would be really hard to keep track of all of those silos, were it not for the magical tool called Readwise. I just connect Readwise to all of those accounts (Pocket, Kindle, Airr, and several others), and Readwise will go out and collect all of my highlights and notes and store them in the same place. You can use the Readwise app to review your highlights, or connect with a "second brain" tool to move all of your highlights into a more useful repository.

DK: I use “likes,” starring, and tagging tools in Feedly and Twitter. I still bookmark webpages. I pull long PDFs like white papers into Apple Books. YouTube videos go into watchlists. I also use a “Save to Notion” Chrome browser extension to move things into, where I manage everything.

AS: These days, most of the information I collect is from the internet. Even if I come across information offline, such as in a magazine article, I typically will try to find an online version of the article to save, but if there is no online version, I may scan and save the information digitally.

AK: I typically collect my information from the several listservs I participate in, along with information I receive from Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, our legal publication, as well as the ABA Journals I read online.

JL: Not very well and I am interested in best practices utilized by others.  Back in the pre-digital day, I would simply collect and store paper.  That never seemed very efficient even at the time.   Today, I capture information by folders in my personal email program, in my notes tool and by using digital tab features to mark/flag items of interest for later review.  There must be a better way.

WG: Either through the print medium or on the phone.

How do you manage your personal knowledge collection of information and what tool do you recommend?

TM: I use Notion as my "second brain" - the place where everything I want to save goes, so I can come back to it later and use it for various purposes (see #4, below). Notion is a bit hard to explain - it can be a note-taking tool, a project management tool, a database tool, or all three if you want. I have begun to use Notion as a "Life Operating System" as described by August Bradley. Almost everything I do in my personal life - reference, travel, healthcare, you name it - is stored in Notion. But there are other repositories that work well for keeping personal knowledge - some of the better known are Evernote and OneNote. I also use as a collaborative bookmark manager - Dennis Kennedy and I use it to maintain a master list of collaboration tools as part of our latest book The Lawyer's Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Work from Home Edition.

DK: I’m well into building out a robust “second brain” in a cloud-based tool called Notion. I’m trying to pull everything I collect into Notion, with an increasing amount of success. I currently have three databases: an idea journal, a “notes to myself” collection, and a “reference notebook” for links and capture items. Each is searchable and taggable, and the views can be changed in many ways to sort and group things as I want. Eventually, I want to build in more automation to move from initial capture to the management phase.

AS: I use multiple tools, depending on the form of the information and what I am going to be using it for. Most articles, snippets or websites I will save in Evernote, using various tags to categorize them and make them easier to find. Videos I will often save to YouTube playlists to reference later. Some information I keep in an Excel spreadsheet, especially if I need to reference it frequently - for example, I have a spreadsheet that includes links to specific articles or web pages that I often reference, such as links to specific podcasts or videos I've created or participated in. Or I'll create a QuickPart in Outlook that includes the link and a description so that I can easily call it up with just a few clicks. I use my Outlook and phone contacts to store notes about people, including spouse's names so I don't forget them. But I still think my personal knowledge management system could be improved - and could be more consistent. I've been known to take photos of something I want to remember - for example, the business card of a service provider that I think might be useful in the future - but then don't take the extra step of saving the image to Evernote or adding the information to my contacts so I can find it when I need it.

AK: As stated, over the years I have become comfortable with setting up a file>subfile system in my Explorer file system.  I also use Microsoft One Drive to sync my files up with all of my devices.

JL: As indicated above, “management” may be the wrong word.   I collect, accumulate and store and review items later as desired or needed.   Search tools work well to allow identify and access past content – but I do not believe I am managing the content effectively and am interested in learning more about tools others have found effective.

WG: With respect to information that I consume for personal purposes, I don't manage or save that information. With respect to information I get from Law 360 that is useful to my practice, I do have various folders in Microsoft outlook that I will put that information into.

What are the best uses you make of the information in your practice, or in everyday life?

TM: I primarily use the information I save as research for articles, blog posts, presentations, or other content I might create. I use the Readwise app for learning - it has a "spaced repetition" feature that will show you a set number of highlights each day, so you can revisit the content you originally highlighted. I also use Notion as a travel planner/manager, to hold all of the content for vacations or other trips I might take - itineraries, tour guides, info and maps on restaurants or interesting sights.

DK: I’m trying to do more targeting reading and return to the “good stuff,” instead of zoning out on whatever my feeds bring in as it comes in. One great benefit is that when I want to write an article or create a syllabus for a class, I can pull together everything relevant  I’ve ever collected in one place, including resources and my notes. It’s also a fantastic way to store information about future projects, travel, or purchases.

AK: I am interpreting this question as “how do/can I apply the information I collect for my practice to everyday life?” As a practice management consultant, I also use the “folder>subfolder” system for this practice.  My four major folders are “Finance,” “Practice,” “Management,” and “Technology.”  Whenever I read an article, participate in a seminar, or search the American Bar Association databases, I usually come up with at least one important piece of information I can save.  Equally, if not more important, however, is how to apply these acquired pieces of information to both  my professional and everyday life.  I strongly urge readers to browse the information contained in this division’s archives as what is stored here provides so much value.

JL: The best use of collected information is allowing me to solve problems encountered, personally or professionally, efficiently and effectively.  Knowing how to access relevant, timely and,  most importantly, accurate information is a wonderful thing.

WG: Law 360 is great for keeping me up-to-date on cases and on developments in my field, i.e. understanding the rights of people with disabilities.

What tips do you have for people who are just getting started creating their own personal knowledge management system?

TM: As with most things involving technology, don't let the tool be your first choice. First figure out what use you'll be making of the tool. What information do you want to collect for your personal use? How do you want to collect the information? Once you have that information, how will you organize it? How will you search for information? Do you need to tag the information, or do you want to link everything together that's connected by subject matter? Once you have the answers to these questions, use them as requirements when evaluating various personal knowledge management tools.

DK: The key words are “your own.” I started in Notion by using templates others had created and ended up ditching all of them. You also want to get a clear picture of the problems you want your PKM system to solve and how you’d like to make the information actionable. Once you do land on a tool, commit to it and take the time to learn it really well. Once I realized I was using Notion kind of backwards and took some training course and revamped what I was doing, it really started to work for me.

AS: Think about what kinds of information you want to save, store, and access, and what you will be using that information for. Check out different tools to see what works for you and what will be easy for you to use. If it isn't easy or intuitive to use, you probably won't maximize its potential.

AK: Do what works best for you.  There are many apps out in the world that assist in creating “knowledge management systems,” or you can go “old-school,” like me.  Of course, I added the next generation by using One Drive, allowing me to have access to my system anywhere I need it, but I did it this way purely as a matter of taste.  If you are interested demoing some Knowledge Management Apps, do your research and choose a few to input some information and see what works best for you.

JL: Not sure I am in a position to give great tips but would just say be open to the experiences of others.  Understand the benefits that could come from collecting and managing information relevant to you efficiently and effectively.   Undoubtedly, there is value in learning from those who have experimented with various tools and strategies.   Ultimately, there is unlikely to be  one perfect tool for everybody so willingness to  test out various options and finding the right fit is important.

WG: I find I actually read more news if I get it in the print version than if I read it online. There is so much information out there now in the smart phone world that we live in that you have to be careful about not checking it constantly in order to preserve your sanity.