Welcome to law school, new 1L! It’s going to be a crazy, intense, memorable, life-changing experience. We at the Commission want to help you navigate through law school successfully. So we decided to start this series of posts offering some advice on how to succeed at law school ethically, professionally and successfully. And since a large part of our work is focused on professionalism in the digital world, we decided to start with something near and dear to our heart–technology and the law school experience.
Now, it’s been a few years since I personally graduated law school. So, as I was deciding to write this post on “Tech Tips for 1Ls,” I realized that I no longer have the first-hand knowledge to provide those tips. For all I knew, students now were taking notes on their smartphone while recording the lecture on Google Glass and texting their friends on their iWatch.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that today’s students are using much of what I used when I started law school seven years ago. There have been some major improvements (smartphones! the Cloud!), but, on a whole, the law student tech experience hasn’t changed that drastically in 10 years.
Here’s what our law student insiders (our Law School Liaisons and Commission summer interns) had to say about their use of technology in law school.
Note Takers Vs. Laptops
Almost all of our law students take notes using their laptops. We had one student, Han Cui of the University of Illinois, who prefers to take notes by hand: “I feel like I am more engaged with the material that way,” she said. “I have found that, while I can type a lot more notes on my laptop, it feels more like transcribing what the professor is saying instead of really listening and writing down the important points.”
The laptop notetakers all had only positive things to say about their experience. Some, like Michael Levy of SIU, use Microsoft Word’s special Notebook feature. Others turn to online productivity software. Alice Weeks of DePaul uses the free software and app Evernote: “[Y]ou can make a notebook for each subject and then start a new note each class. And you can get it on your phone so you can review your notes on the train, at home and wherever you want.” Kevin Sanders of Northwestern offers Google Docs as an alternative: “My notes are automatically saved, and I can access them from any computer that can access the internet. That allows me to keep my laptop in my locker some days and access my notes from my desktop at home.”
Now that you have your laptop with you, do you really want to lug around your casebook as well? No, says Kevin, try LearnLeo instead. LearnLeo is an online collaborative platform that allows you to generate briefs from your notes, share outlines with other students and even review case law online. According to Kevin, “Not only does LearnLeo make case brief writing easier, it allows me to keep my course book at home and still have the case in front of me in class.”
Legal Dictionary Apps
Our law students also raved (as much as one can rave) about their legal dictionaries. Alice says that she always made sure to have a legal dictionary app on her phone to look up those obscure Latin words and legalese. Danielle Harris of Chicago-Kent recommends the Law.com dictionary: “It helped me quickly learn legal terminology that would be thrown at me during lectures. Sometimes our professors would have pop quizzes, and this app would help jog my memory on the vocabulary before taking the quiz. It also helped me to answer the professors’ questions in an articulate way without misusing the words.”
Now, while this advice on productivity is all well and good, here’s what law students really need–a procrastination blocker. It turns out that there’s even an app for that: Self-Control. What does it do? Let Kent’s Brittany Hubbard explain:
Self-Control lets you put in the addresses of distracting websites and set a timer for the period during which you should be productive–whether that’s in class, studying, reading, writing, etc.; while the timer is going, the websites you love will look like they’re down, preventing you from interacting with them. No more BuzzFeed quizzes when your professor is explaining Palsgraf (you’ll get that reference in two months).”
Self-Control can block anything. Katie Murphy of Loyola uses Self-Control to “not be distracted by Facebook, Reddit, Gmail, etc., when I really need to focus.” And if you want to upgrade that focus and concentration, Brittany also recommends the free web-tool, Focus@Will. It combines neuroscience with music and picks and plays music that helps you focus on what you’re doing. Best part? It plays in one-hour increments so you don’t lose track of time.
So now you have your notebook, your casebook, your law dictionary and your anti-procrastination devices. What’s the last thing you need to do? Back up everything. “Back up absolutely every document you have related to law school!” says John Marshall’s Shannon Buckley. “Connect your files to an account with DropBox or Google Drive so every time you save your brief or outline to your hard drive, it’s also backed up to your cloud automatically. You never know when your computer might meltdown.” Only use Microsoft Word? Take a look at this website to learn how to ensure your computer automatically backs up all your documents, not just the AutoRecover version.
Everyone has a favorite app or tool for success. So, do you have any other tech tips for our incoming 1L class? Share them in the comments below and help welcome the newest members of our profession.
John Edwards, our intern from Loyola University Chicago School of Law, contributed to this post.