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Friday, July 19, 2019

PrawfHacks: Top 10 mobile productivity apps and tools for law professors

The following guest-post is from Matthew B. Lawrence (Penn State-Dickinson)

Out of necessity (I have a long commute) I have found a number of incredibly helpful tools for staying productive and organized in teaching, service, and especially scholarship on the “go.”  I often find myself explaining them to colleagues at conferences and the like, and just as often find myself getting great new ideas to improve my workflow from colleagues.  So I thought I would write up my favorites for the prawfsblawg audience and invite suggestions for other great tools I might have missed.
Here are my top ten #PrawfHacks:
  1. “Voice Dream Reader.”  This app, available for android and ios smart phones, reads .doc or .pdf files to you in a computer voice at any speed you wish.  It is invaluable!  I find that because of my legal training, if I am sitting in front of a book/case/law review article, I dissect it.  That’s good and important, but sometimes I don’t have that kind of time and just want to “read” legal scholarship or a case, to get a sense of it or to hear all its thoughts.  This is especially true of colleagues’ drafts, job talk papers, and when learning a new field or area.  Voice Dream Reader is great for those purposes.  One caveat: You’ll want .doc files, not .pdf, in most cases; otherwise it will read the footnotes.  You can get .doc versions of law review articles on Westlaw.
  2. Digital voice recorder.  See #3.
  3. Dragon Naturally Speaking.  This software has a “transcription” mode that will convert to text voice recordings you take on your voice recorder.  You can use this to record talks you give/classes, then transcribe them for later reference.  I find that to be super helpful if giving the same talk 6 months apart.  You can also use this to write—indeed transcription is how lawyers used to write!  I find I write differently when speaking, but not in a bad way; I’m more conceptual and free with ideas, less structured.  So it is perfect when developing a topic or flushing out the arguments.
  4. Wireless headphones/airpods.  Airpods are really, really useful for calls on the go or listening to podcasts and law review articles.
  5. “Bear.”  This is an app for writing on your phone or recording notes.  With Alexa on android or Siri on iphone, you can also use it to record notes on the go—“Hey Siri take a note in bear.”  You can also add hashtags to organize ideas.  Anecdote: I was waiting for security at BWI airport recently listening to a law review article on “voice dream reader,” and had an idea for a potential future paper.  So I just double tapped my airpods (they are useful!), said “add a note in bear,” and then “[insert the idea I thought was brilliant at the time here], #topics.”  It was thereby magically added to my “topics” category in Bear, which I consult whenever I’m thinking about/weaving together a project.
  6. Podcasts.  I got the idea for my most recently published article listening to an episode of “The Week In Health Law” while still in practice.  Ipse Dixit is also terrific.  Finally, many (but not enough!!!) schools post audio or video of events and workshops they hold that can make for great listening.  Chicago is particularly good at this.
  7. Ipad with Apple Pencil (or other tablet with stylus) and a cloud service (onedrive, box, or dropx box).  We have not even gotten to the Ipad yet!  This is a key tool because it unlocks the next several…
  8. iAnnotate PDF.  This is the pdf reader I have used for years.  When I’m not listening to law review articles, I’m reading them in iAnnotate.  It is searchable.  You can highlight or add comments or markup.  You can export ONLY your highlights and/or comments for future references.  You can have 12 tabs open at once.  It is great.  I also grade papers and mark up drafts, etc., with this.  There are times when the printed page is better, but the convenience of not having to print or lug around the things you printed, and being able to find them a year later (because saved to the cloud) is transformative.
  9. Good Notes.  I could go on, but I love to write notes in meetings, etc., by hand.  I can do this in good notes on ipad with an apple pencil.  It feels like I’m carrying around 12 notebooks at all times that I can quickly switch between.  One on the adjunct faculty committee, one on my current work in progress, and so on.  This app is also a great sandbox to draw diagrams, charts, sketches, etc., for inclusion in powerpoints or classroom use.  They might be really rough but they can get the point across!
  10. Office suite.  Microsoft office, excel, and powerpoint all have really good apps that works across phone, tablet, and pc or macbook.  They have come a long way and can now even handle track changes (though not macros).  I’m not proud: I have reviewed a law review’s (late round) edits on a draft article on my iphone while standing in the lobby waiting for my daughter’s ballet practice to finish.

That’s my list, but I’d love to hear others’ ideas for #prawfhacks!

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 19, 2019 at 12:20 PM in Teaching Law | Permalink


different kind of hack - I love Freedom - which blocks me off from social media and other sites while I am focusing on writing.

Posted by: Orly Lobel | Jul 21, 2019 11:50:39 PM

Thanks DR. That is brilliant. I will use that to pull the page numbers. I actually do not mind the footnotes numbers because it lets me take notes for footnotes to go dig into where I am curious about support or what sources the author found.

Posted by: Matt Lawrence | Jul 19, 2019 9:32:23 PM

To answer my own question, it's pretty simple! (1) To delete all asterisked page numbers, go to "Advanced Find and Replace" and type *^#, with the number of ^#s corresponding to the number of numerical characters that need deleting. For example, to delete every page number from *382 to *451, just type *^#^#^# and replace it with nothing. (2) To delete all superscripts, go to "Advanced Find and Replace"; under "Find," click on "Format" --> "Font"; check the "Superscript" box; in the "Find what" box, type ^?; and replace it with nothing throughout. (These methods should work for Mac users, anyway!)

Posted by: DR | Jul 19, 2019 6:29:55 PM

I love Voice Dream Reader -- thanks for the recommendation! -- but its recitation of page numbers and FN superscripts is pretty distracting. Is there an easy fix for this when listening to law-review articles downloaded from Westlaw in .doc form?

Posted by: DR | Jul 19, 2019 5:45:00 PM

Thanks for the suggestions Jake. I really like the idea of listening to one’s own work. Reminds me of what we used to do on law review; every piece got read aloud twice. I will also try notability as an “extra.” I like to open a bunch of tabs, but then I have found myself get mixed up if I need to use the app for another project before I am done with it. So I have been experimenting with using different apps that do pdf reading/annotation for different projects, almost like different “binders” in the print world. Maybe someone knows an easier work around (though it works fine). Sounds like notability could be an additional such binder. Note that Howard was kind enough to share my thoughts as a guest post.

Posted by: Matt Lawrence | Jul 19, 2019 2:14:33 PM

Thanks for these thoughts, Howard. I use Notability on my iPad in a manner similar to your use of iAnnotate. I found the former preferable for my particular style of processing, but each tools offers distinct advantages.

I use Dropbox so I can access files on a number of different computers and devices.

I've not tried Voice Dream Reader, but I quite like Natural Reader Pro, which I can use to listen to articles and casebooks on my phone, and to listen to the current draft of an article or letter on my work PC. (My PC lacks the text-to-speech features of my MacBook).

Moreover, I highly recommend listening out loud to writing projects at least once before you finish them. It's a trick my former colleague Robin Craig taught me that I feel has drastically improved the quality of my writing. Perhaps more importantly, my ears will catch errors that my eyes won't, especially when I've moved around the text of the article 100 times. In fact, I'm listening through recent law review edits right now to make sure I'm happy with changes I've made and those made by my co-author and the editor.

Posted by: Jake Linford | Jul 19, 2019 1:41:30 PM

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