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June 10th is National Ballpoint Pen Day, the 72nd anniversary of the ballpoint pen's invention. Dozens of people every year take the day to remember the contributions ballpoint pens have made to our lives. Sounds silly? Yes.
But also, no. The ballpoint pen was popularized by the British Royal Air Force, who used it to take in flight notes during Nazi-fighting missions in WWII, when a fountain pen just wouldn't do. If it wasn't for the ballpoint pen, we all might be speaking German right now.
The ballpoint remains the most common writing instrument in the world, even as paper notes become less and less ubiquitous. Which raises the question: for lawyers, is physical writing, as one does with a ballpoint, still relevant?
Yes, The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard
On one hand, yes. Physical writing still matters, whether it's with a pencil, ballpoint, or the blood of your enemies. For one, plenty of people swear that writing helps with retention, and their anecdotal experience is supported by at least one recent study.
The physical sensation of putting pen to paper seems to help people remember information better. Since most of us write more slowly than we type (Mom, you can type with more than one finger, you know), the slower pace of pen-based note taking might allow us to dwell on information just a second longer. That can be helpful for taking client notes, jotting down ideas in meetings, prepping deposition questions and the like.
There's also a question of convenience. Batteries die and you simply can't have your computer or pad everywhere. Many courts won't allow attorneys to use electronic devices while the court is in session. How will you update your trial notes when your iPad is verboten? Print it out, mark it up with a pen. Plus, no one has ever shot their ballpoint pen to death -- we can't say the same about computers.
No, Grandpa, Pens Don't Matter
On the other hand, no. There's a good half dozen ballpoint pens scattered around my desk right now, but as a writer I may touch them only once or twice a week. The fact is, efficiency, convenience and spell check all demand that we use electronic devices for the vast majority of our communication. Putting pen to paper is about as convenient as chiseling a note into a stone tablet.
If you think that keeping paper copies will help protect your information -- well, you're only 80 percent right. Sure, Chinese hackers won't be able to steal your handwritten trial notes from your computer, but that's not the only way client privacy can be breached. More than a fifth of all data breaches are based on the loss of paper copies, not computerized information.
Sorry ballpoints, you've earned your spot in the museum -- as a relic.
Write it with a ballpoint.
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