Any lawyers or legal practitioners using Obsidian?

Hello all,

I’m curious to know how lawyers, if at all, are using Obsidian or the zettelkasten approach to summarize case law and/or generate legal arguments and/or work on projects. I’m working in labour law context, mainly in labour arbitration but some policy related work. I don’t generate much knew knowledge but am always trying to spin jurisprudence into novel arguments specific to the facts of the case I am working on.

Much of the talk about these tools are about knowledge creation, how are you using it for knowledge management? Maybe I don’t need Obsidian or Roam but rather just need a wiki?

Interested to hear if there are any practicing lawyers on here and how you use the tool. Do you draft/organize briefs or writing in Obsidian, or do that elsewhere. Do you keep literature notes (i.e. case law summaries) in obsidian, or only new arguments? Are any of you out there?

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Hi, talundbal,

I’m working on a custom CSS for a use like you’re describing it. I’ll be sharing it shortly

In general: Obsidian can be a capable wiki. This is one of the ways I am setting it up. Together with transclusions and pandoc it works as a word processor as well. And in combination with Boxcryptor I’m fairly confident about using it with more sensitive information as well.

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Not a lawyer yet, but a law student who does some of the stuff you’re talking about, i.e. mostly knowledge management.

I do use Obsdn for notes/outlines/planning, but when it comes to long-form writing I use Docs or Scrivener instead.

I do keep “literature notes” in Obsidian - it doesn’t really make sense to me to keep this in a separate place, since you do want to link them across notes. But I guess it’s more of a personal preference; I try to keep everything in one place as much as possible.

I think I have a more structured flow than most users here. Inside the folder “LAW” I have a folder “[Court] case-law” and one file for each case - and structure notes on top of that. From there it depends on what I’m going to use the case for. Inside the case file I have links to concept notes, and also related case-law/legislation.

What I’m still struggling with right now is legislation. I come from a civil law tradition so I cite specific legislative articles more often than I need case-law, and I don’t know if I should have a note for each article - and if so, how to go about it, since there are way too many articles. But maybe I’m just being lazy about it.

I use three folders in Obsidian for my legal work, which I keep separate from my Zettelkasten.

I keep a Legal Research folder. The notes are not as atomic as in my Zettelkasten, but are otherwise similar in featuring my summary of a legal issue, with many links to other issues (including to blank notes that I plan on filling in later), with cites to the key legal authorities. I use tags to identify the jurisdiction and whether they are procedural or substantive legal issues. I have sometimes created these while researching or preparing for a hearing or drafting a pleading. Other times, I prepare them after the fact to remember a key lesson.

I have a separate General folder in which I keep notes about cases, people, and other projects. The style is more wiki-like for these notes. This is my general notes folder that I use for both personal and work notes. I was inspired by my brief trial of Roam for how I use this folder. Its goal is to be a second brain in which I can search for people or project notes and remember key decisions or meetings. But I keep my actual meeting notes and sensitive client files in separate tools.

I also keep a separate folder called Templates, in which I have notes that would have the latest sample clauses and sentences I would want to use in future pleadings or contracts.

Having separate folders that I can keep locally is why I prefer Obsidian over Roam.

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Advice please.
I’m looking for a tool to quickly build organized electronic case files to save attorneys time in getting up to speed on a case. I’m envisioning wiki style where they can click and navigate through the information in whatever order they choose based on what they see as relevant, viewing linked documents as needed or not. I was considering Tiddlywiki or Zim before stumbling upon Obsidian an hour ago. Is this a better tool for what I’m looking to do?

I’m a law student and just got hooked on Obsidian for cataloging all the case law in my notes. Backlinks and graph view make it a total gamechanger in my opinion, my study notes always felt so isolated and out of context being scattered across Word files…

I haven’t imported much of my notes yet, and I’m re-reading old cases to create even more backlinks and really flesh out my graphs. But for now I’d say the visual component for me is really helpful for thinking about important precedent and how a body of case law has, over time, lead to a legal rule. I feel like the real masters of these concepts do this intuitively but having it in my notes and with the graph view takes it to a whole other level

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Not sure if Obsidian would be the best way to build an electronic case file unless your case file already has of a lot of text files. Most law firms I work with keep their case files primarily in PDF and Microsoft Office formats (.doc, .xls, .ppt), so a document manager that can handle those file formats with folders and tagging is likely your best bet. There are document management systems marketed to law firms (e.g., iManage). To use something like Obsidian, you’d have to create text files that link to these other files and constantly update the text files as you add new documents or move them.

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What is the likelihood that in 5 years, somebody will take the case files associated with the bar exam, and recreate it in a tool like Obsidian?

Does my question even make sense? I have limited experience in this domain (Does “A Few Good Men” count?)

Basically I’m wondering if eventually, a standard case law zipped file of thousands of highly-linked notes might exist and actually be super helpful for practicing lawyers.

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I have 4 courts I am assigned too. Each has a physical binder of information. I’ve been installing bits and pieces of the binder as I go, as well as relevant case law.

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Creating zipped files of linked notes may be useful replacements for some legal treatises—essentially, a local, wikified version of a legal treatise. But I suspect that creating and curating your own notes is part of the “magic” that makes Zettelkastens useful. Otherwise, you might as well be reading a website or a wiki—which may have the advantage of being constantly updated by experts, whereas the zip of notes will go stale (the law is constantly changing). If I am correct that your personal engagement in creating notes is important, then the key to making use of the zip file of linked notes will be the attorney being willing to create new notes reflecting their research and analysis and linking back to the pre-supplied notes.

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I cannot imagine that .zipped references would be useful

I think more likely would be to include links to external websites which have the referenced documents

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Agreed. The references are all available online and there are even some rudimentary graphing tools that can show relationships between legal references. Not much reason to replicate the case law or statute in zip files and would take too much space. When I envisioned the zip file, I was thinking the zipped notes would contain an expert’s analysis of legal concepts with citations to legal authorities that are available online.

But all of this is already available to lawyers on the online platforms that legal publishers offer, such as Lexis and Westlaw. They publish treatises that have hyperlinked citations to the legal authorities.

The problem is that if you want to annotate the treatises or authorities on those platforms with your own notes, your notes are trapped in the platforms’ proprietary rudimentary system.

So if you are creating your own notes as you research legal issues, you might want to create notes in Obsidian containing either literature notes or your permanent notes about a particular legal issue. You would include links to the online references. And you could zip the permanent notes and share with others.

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I am an Advocate and using Obsidian as a new user. Before that hardcore user of evernote and notion. Both are very good. But obsidian is a very good for reference management tool, note taking, and a word processor. i like obsidian a lot.

I use libre office and typora as a word processor. Now I’m slowly moving to obsidian for this job.

In my website The Desk Of A Lawyer i am trying to motivate lawyers, attorneys and advocates to use obsidian for there note taking apps and as well as case reference management system too.

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I’m an attorney and I’m extremely new to Obsidian. I’m just exploring the idea of a PKM system at this point. The only thing remotely like Obsidian that I’ve used before is Evernote, and I use that mostly as a parking lot for information and I don’t tend to retrieve much from it. I don’t use it for note-taking as I’m still a pen and paper notetaker whenever that’s possible.

I’m thinking that Obsidian might be very useful for brief-writing, but it’s just a kernel of an idea. My process starts with pulling all the cases that I need to know or want to cite, then reading them all and annotating them as to which issue(s) the case relates to, marking any specific quotes I’d like to incorporate into the brief, and noting the procedural posture of the case, etc. Since some cases will relate to multiple issues relevant to the legal question I’m briefing, it would be helpful to see my notes on such a case connected to all the other cases on that issue for each issue in the brief.

If any other lawyers would be interested in talking through how Obsidian might be useful in a litigation context, I’m willing to do that. I find this hard to do in writing, and I don’t know that anyone will understand what I’ve just written either!

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I think for law students definitely. There’s already a bunch of study guides and case books for legal subjects taught at university, but imagine if a book like this was instead an Obsidian publish site. Instead of seeing a case mentioned and having to flick through the book, or search the web on your own, you could immediately follow a back link and so on…

I think students are a great use case because the majority of case law that students will learn remains the same each year, plus whatever new cases have been decided recently. There is a substantial overlap of cases cited by core textbooks. Core subjects like contract, commercial law, or tort tend to be updated every year or two, with more niche subjects less frequently. So I think your idea is totally viable as a study resource for students.

Practicing lawyers is likely a different story as every lawyer’s practice is different, and often quite specialized. But I don’t see why a student who has made an Obsidian vault of their legal knowledge can’t take that into practice with them.

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I agree! That said, I haven’t tested this out yet with Obsidian either. So far I’m trying to keep each case as a separate note and I format them kind of like this:

Citation

Ratio

  • Here’s where I’ll type the ratio of the case and what principles can be drawn from it + general comments on the case itself.

  • I like to put them at the top of the file so that when I am hovering over a case in preview mode I can get a quick peek at the ratio without having to open a new window.

  • For example: The proper approach to statutory interpretation is purposive. The statute shall receive a fair, large and liberal construction as well best ensure the attainment of its objects: [[Moulin Global Eyecare v Commissioner of Inland Revenue]] followed.

Background

Facts

What happened

Procedural history

Civil/criminal procedure information.

Ruling

Chan J

What is the purpose of statutory interpretation?

I will break up the ruling section by judge and then break up their judgments by topic for easier navigation and citation across notes. I will do this for each judge’s judgment.

Smith J

etc.

Disposition

Appeal dismissed, the appellant shall pay the respondent’s costs etc.

That’s my general approach at the moment, and I still have a lot more notes to add. I haven’t tried using Obsidian exclusively to write any briefs/skeletons, but it’s really helped me think about the links between different cases and how legal rules interact. Really interested to hear what other lawyers/law students think of Obsidian, been trying to get my friends into it…

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@LisaC117 I’m very interested to hear how it goes, please do let us know. Same to you @zwaki and @pattman!

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