October 23, 2012

Saving and Retrieving Fleeting Reference Information – Edited by Steve Matthews

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September/October 2009 Issue | Volume 35 Number 6 | Page 27


Saving and Retrieving Fleeting Reference Information – Edited by Steve Matthews

WEB 2.0 The term Web 2.0 was coined to reflect the interactive nature of the modern Web, where new tools have emerged to allow everyone—including lawyers—to contribute commentary, collaborate instantly and work digitally in formerly unimaginable ways. In this column, we invite savvy legal technology experts to write about tools and tactics that lawyers can use to leverage the power of the Web 2.0 (r)evolution.

You say that dusty reading pile on the corner of your desk just doesn’t cut it anymore? Then good for you, you are ready to learn something truly valuable—how to capture and save print and electronic information in the Web 2.0 world.

Lawyers are constantly finding great content—both electronically, via Web sites, e-mail and CD-ROM, and in print. But too often content found on the Internet is here today, gone tomorrow. That citation to the perfect on-point case you saw on that CLE materials disc is now in hiding. Articles in print publications you wanted for later reference get lost in the pile.

You know there’s content everywhere that would be helpful for current awareness and rsearch, yet capturing, organizing and keeping it takes the skills of a librarian. Or does it? There are many tools to help even the least organized of us capture and retrieve information that comes across our desktops.

Research Folders for Your Reference Assets

Many lawyers have documents that have been scanned into electronic files, CLE materials on CD-ROMs, and other reference materials or “digital assets” that they would like to be able to manage, store and recall when needed. One simple way to harness the research materials that you gather is to create a central folder on your hard drive or network drive where you will store all of them.

Simply call this folder something like “Reference” or “Library” and then save all relevant materials to it as you gather them. If you receive a CD-ROM with CLE materials, for example, you just copy and save the contents to this folder. You can also create subfolders for particular reference categories as needed, of course. Especially if you accumulate a large quantity of materials on particular reference subjects, having subfolders titled according to your main topics will help you stay better organized.

Note that for documents that are in PDF format, you will need to verify that there is a text layer in the files so that they can be searched later. If they don’t have that, simply run Adobe Acrobat OCR or another optical character recognition program such as OmniPage Pro or Abby Fine-Reader. By harnessing the power of OCR you can also scan articles and columns from paper publications and place them in the Reference or Library folder. That means that if you really want your system to work but don’t already have an OCR program, you should definitely get one today.

So what about saving Web pages and other materials found on the Web as .html files? It’s very easily done by using the Save As feature in your browser, or saving the pages as .pdf files, and then placing them within your Reference folder.

Desktop Search Engines for Your Goldmine

Now that you’ve organized your materials into the appropriate spot, what’s next? When you want to look for something, you simply type your query into your desktop search engine and all of these resources are available to be searched. What is a desktop search engine? It is a software program that allows you to search, find and manage information anywhere on your computer.

If you aren’t using a desktop search engine already, check out these three:

These programs can search within multiple file formats at the speed of light. Of course, the added bonus is that these desktop search tools not only search your Reference folder, but also search your entire hard drive or specified network drives. You will have a fighting chance at finding all kinds of documents, e-mails and more on your desktop, even if you haven’t been very organized. For some help comparing different desktop search tools, the Goebel Group consulting firm has designed a desktop search tool matrix to compare different features and functions.

Install the proper desktop search tool for your needs and you now have a valuable and easily searchable goldmine of knowledge.

Also, don’t let those information-rich e-mails get lost in the shuffle! The latest version of Adobe Acrobat, 9.0, allows users to save entire MS Outlook e-mail folders to a PDF portfolio. The individual e-mails are accessible by date, subject or sender in the PDF portfolio and all attachments from the original e-mails remain in their original format. This is a great way to archive e-mail messages and save them to a document repository without having to worry about dealing with the .pst extensions.

Research Notebooks and Web Clippings

Are you still keeping a dog-eared notebook that you fill with article clippings, research notes, scribbled-down hyperlinks, case cites and more? The same thing can now be accomplished with software, thank goodness. Let’s look at two products that allow you to make electronic notebooks. Both are capable of doing what your paper notebook never could.

Evernote. Let’s say you write yourself notes on tiny pieces of paper and then have to frantically search through the stack you keep of them to find what you need. Cast those little pieces of paper aside by using Evernote . It is a note-taking application that can help you stay organized. You store notes, Web clippings, links and the like on a single page. (Evernote calls it “an endless roll of digital paper.”) Then everything is in one place, and you can search for it in multiple ways, including:

  • Through categories
  • Through automatic labeling
  • By time and date stamps
  • With keywords

You can assign categories manually or automatically, and there are over 50 icons you can also assign to organize things visually. To help you save and share Web content, the program installs an icon on your toolbar so you can cut and paste content from the Internet into your Evernote page—and a full link is provided along with the content. Evernote is available for free either as software that you download onto your computer (Mac and Windows versions) or as a Web-based Software as a Service (SaaS) product. And of course, there’s an application for the road warriors out there—it’s available for the BlackBerry, Palm Treo, iPhone and Windows Mobile devices, too.

You can even download it on a SanDisk thumb drive to run the app remotely. So continue jotting down those notes—just do it digitally with Evernote instead.

Microsoft OneNote . MS OneNote 2007 is part of the MS Office 2007 suite, but it can also be purchased separately for $99 from retailers. It (like the rest of the Office 2007 suite) will work on the Windows XP (SP 2) operating system, so you do not need to upgrade to Vista. OneNote has a number of features to help end-users capture, create, organize, share and reuse content. While it works best with a tablet PC, it is still a great tool even for a standard laptop or desktop. It lets you create notebooks containing folders, subfolders and pages. Think of it as a series of spiralbound notebooks with pocket dividers.

The pages in this program are “unlined” so that text, audio or video can be dropped in anywhere, allowing the user maximum control and providing a digital version of a real notebook. You can add text, clip Web content, clip any content from any MS application, insert audio and video files, convert handwritten notes from a table to text and much more. Plus, you can record audio directly into OneNote while it syncs your notes. You can also export OneNote text to MS Outlook as a Task and share portions of OneNote over a network.

In addition, users can flag notes, import content in multiple formats, and even import MS Office Calendar events to create a notebook or page around the event. The program is easy to use and very intuitive, and it is a great replacement for that dog-eared notebook.

Iterasi. Lastly, if all you really want to do is keep content you find on the Internet from disappearing, check out Iterasi, a free Web-based product currently in beta, which describes itself as your “personal Web archive.” It is a browser-based tool for Internet Explorer or Firefox that allows any Web page to be saved, searched and shared anytime, from anywhere, forever. Now that’s Web 2.0!

Through a built-in notarization feature, Iterasi verifies the authenticity of the content in its exact state at the time it was notarized. This is a way to ensure a Web site is available for future reference exactly the way it was when you made reference to it. However, as with any free product in beta, don’t bet on the current version for mission-critical functions.

Cultivate the Information Gathering Habit

Whatever the method or tool that works for you, the trick is to get it into your work flow and use it consistently. Choose tools that are both easy to use and fit your information gathering and hoarding habits. Then, when you need to find that article or case that you know you saw somewhere, you may just be able to find it again. You will build up a knowledge base that would be the envy of any lawyer—or librarian.

Steve Matthews , the Web 2.0 column editor, is principal of Stem Legal Web Enterprises. If you have ideas to share or topics to suggest, please contact him. Steve blogs at www.stemlegal.com/strategyblog.

Catherine Sanders Reach is Director of the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center. She previously worked in library and information science environments.