From Yellow Legal Pad to iPad—A Law Firm Evolution Explained

In 1888, Thomas W. Holley had an idea.

The 24-year-old worked at a paper mill in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and he discovered a way to make use of old scraps of paper discarded by the mill. Holley decided to bind the scraps into a notepad and sell them at a discounted rate.

In gathering scraps of paper to make his pads, Holley constructed a fairly successful refurbished paper business. And, in the 1900s, a local judge asked Holley to add a margin to the ruled pads so he could have some extra space to make comments on his own notes.

Thus, the legal pad was borne.

With 1.25-inch margin, yellow legal pads are now iconic in the legal industry. American Pad & Paper Company—Holley’s entrepreneurial firm—finally closed their factory in Holyoke, Mass., but the company and its legacy lives on in courthouses and law offices across America.

Lawyers have formed a psychological attachment to legal pads. Philip Moustakis, a mid-level associate at the New York firm of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle, uses one legal pad per case. He prefers yellow over white pads and a faint, as opposed to a dark, rule, telling Legal Affairs Magazine, “The darker lines intrude upon my thinking—they’re yelling back at you.”

“You want a more subtle line.”

Nevertheless, technology is encroaching on more traditional industries, like the market for notepads. And, corporate social responsibility, especially concern for the environment, is taking hold in firms.

Iris Harris, the assistant director of purchasing at Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw, told Legal Affairs Magazine that her firm no longer leaves stacks of pads lying around on conference tables. Harris’ firm consumes, on average, 1,200 legal-size legal pads, 12,000 letter-size legal pads, and 4,200 Junior-size legal pads a year. Around 2000, her firm switched from yellow to white pads.

“Yellow wasn’t recyclable,” Harris explained.

Today, lawyers are more economical and ecological. The yellow legal pad has been replaced by the iPad.

Luckily, technology today is more flexible than in Holley’s paper mill days.

Jotting down notes, writing in the margin, and drawing diagrams are often the work of handwriting. Many have trouble typing on the iPad, even if they appreciate its dynamic uses.

Instead of using a laptop or typing on the touchscreen, consider one of these iPad apps that make paperless notes both practical and productive.

Notability is an app that allows legal professionals to switch between typing and handwriting notes. The thickness of the stylus is adjustable, as well as the ink color. Notability also allows the user to record a message and embed it into the digital notebook.

Organizing your notes has never been simpler or thinner with Notability’s filing feature.

Penultimate is another popular iPad handwriting notebook. Change the background from ruled to grid to plain paper, and channel Holley as you do it.

Use Your Handwriting is a great app for iPhone and iPad.

A more organic reflection of handwriting, Use Your Handwriting lets lawyers create sublists, quick alarms, and sync data with one press of a button. It’s clear we’ve moved a long way from the mill to mobility in notetaking.

The iPad may not conform to the patented standards of a yellow legal pad, but where it remains deficient in screen size, it will likely exceed in expectations and outcomes for efficiency.



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