Practice Tip: Record Audio While Taking Notes

Practice Tip: Record Audio While Taking Notes

It’s not often that I have something nice to say about Microsoft. That said, Microsoft Word is a pretty top-notch product, if a bit expensive. While I have pretty much abandoned Excel for Numbers, Microsoft Word is still my work horse for drafting correspondence and pleadings. I don’t use anything else in the Office suite of applications; and until Pages enables you to set the default document format as .doc, I will continue to use Word for my law firm documents because, like it or not, the rest of the world uses Word, and therefore .doc. (I will refrain from commenting upon or even acknowledging those still using Word holy-crap-are-people-still-using-this-dinosaur Perfect. No offense, naturally!)

I recently discovered the “Notebook Layout View” in a Microsoft Word Document.

Ironically, I learned about this feature while learning the ins and outs of another great notebook application, Circus Ponies Notebook. If you will tolerate a brief aside… I have been looking for the best way to manage my documents for my cases in litigation – toying with Journler, Evernote, Circus Ponies Notebook, and, well, nothing (hat tip to Peter Summerill, the MacLitigator).

Last week my client had her deposition taken. I decided to take Microsoft Word’s notebook layout for a spin. For those playing along at home, I’m using Microsoft Office:Mac 2008. Your mileage may vary for Office:Mac 2003 or 2004. The first thing you’ll want to do is open a new Word document. You can select the Notebook layout from the Project Gallery that tends to present itself when Word first opens, or, you can select the Notebook Layout View in the bottom left-hand corner.

Once you have chosen your Notebook Layout View, you can start the recording by clicking the record button at the top of the notebook.

As you can see in the screenshot, you can adjust the input volume. I noticed that I had to do this to pick up the voices from across the table. Using the built-in mic on my early-2008 MacBook Pro, I was able to hear everyone’s voices very well on playback. The one drawback was that you could hear the clickity-clack of my keyboard even though I was careful to tread lightly with my fingers. Even so, the voices are still very audible over the keystrokes. While this may not be suitable for courtroom playback, it is plenty fine for your own reference. If you want to enhance your quality, you may want to plug in an external mic.

The coolest part about all of this is that you can play back the audio that was playing while you were typing any particular part of your notes. Just hover your mouse over the note you want to listen to, and a speaker icon will appear next to that note. Clicking it will play the audio that was being recorded as you were typing that note.

I was worried about what kind of file size this would result in. I actually found it to be very reasonable. An hour and a half deposition resulted in a 15 megabyte file. Not too shabby. I wouldn’t take all of my notes that way, but it will certainly be worthwhile in many situations.

You can export the audio as an .mp4 file after the fact if you’d like to add it to your iTunes for playback on your iPod or iPhone.
Voice Annotating in Circus Ponies Notebook

If you use Circus Ponies Notebook to organize your litigation files, you can do essentially the same thing as I described above for Word. According to the Circus Ponies documentation:

You can type notes in a lecture or meeting and record the person speaking using the built-in voice annotation feature. NoteBook adds Voice Annotation Stickers that are synced to the voice recording, so you can start playback at the exact point at which you began typing a note. You can also copy a voice annotation file to iTunes, and from there to your iPod for anywhere playback.

Once you have finished recording, Notebook will place a voice annotation sticker next to wherever you added or changed notes while recording, and you can click those to play back.

Like the notebook layout in Word, in Circus Ponies Notebook, you can choose “Open in iTunes” to export the audio file for playback on your iPod or what-have-you.

Record with Good Old Paper and Pen with the Pulse Smart Pen from LiveScribe

Sometimes, you don’t have your laptop on you, and sometimes you just want to take notes the good old fashioned way – with paper and pen.

I won’t spend too much time on this because I have no personal experience with it, but the LiveScribe pen looks truly awesome. Basically, it does everything the above applications do, but it does it with or without a computer. I will refer you to their site to view the demo.

In short: Using special paper (that you can print yourself, btw) you take notes with the LiveScribe pen and it records. When you want to play back your notes, you tap on the paper on the notes you want to hear and it knows based on where you tap what portion of the audio to play back. Even better, you can transfer the files to your computer, and it will convert your notes into a PDF – no scanning required.