Volume 18, Number 8
Welcome to GP Mentor, GPSolo's new column expressly for law students-but some of you seasoned lawyers may find some helpful information as well. We want to help you find your way as you go on job interviews, study for the bar exam, cope with law school stress, work at summer jobs and internships, and learn to write like a lawyer. We want to explain what it's like to be a solo or small firm lawyer and what to expect in your first year as a general practitioner. Look for our column in every issue of GPSolo. Want to see a topic covered in GP Mentor? Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Secret Technology Weapons for Surviving Law School
By Catherine Sanders Reach
How do law school students use technologies to survive law school? How do technologies affect their school lives? What are the secret weapons used by successful students to get ahead and stay ahead? LTRC interviewed second-and third-year law school students to find out the answers.
Every law school student has nightmares about waking up late for an exam, being called on in class, or participating in their first mock trial. We asked students about their worst law school technology nightmares. Tony Martinez speculates that a lost or stolen laptop could wreak havoc two weeks before finals. Peter Lasorsa asserts that his worst technology nightmare as a commuting student during Legal Writing I & II was the possibility of anything happening to Lexis.com or the Internet in the middle of the night.
Amy Brugam has been keeping all of her notes on her laptop since the first day of law school and says that the thought of losing that information sends chills down her spine. Pam Amato shivers at the thought of forgetting to update her virus protection software, especially because she has already had the experience of sending a worm to her classmates. She tells us that on that occasion she was sitting in her office and heard a yell down the hall: "Hey Pam, did you give XXX a virus?" Needless to say, Pam never clicks on "wait 1 day" before she downloads the newest updates of her virus protection!
Twenty years ago, a law school student's survival tools might have included a sharp pencil, hornbooks, and a backpack full of flash cards. Today's law school student is more likely to rely on technology to thrive and survive during this hectic and invigorating experience. Peter relies on his school's wireless network and his laptop to do research on the Internet, via sites such as lawschool.lexis.com and Emmanuel Online, to give him an edge on note taking and answering questions from the professor.
Amy took advantage of her school's technology grant program, TIP, and submitted a proposal to get money to help her buy a Handspring Visor. She has also purchased software that allows her to download and edit documents on the device. Pam, who is the Law Student Division Liaison to the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division's Council, finds that fulfilling her duties and her schoolwork is possible through e-mail and discussion lists. Tony also says that e-mail is the trick to law school survival. He e-mails questions to his professors and gets thoughtful and detailed replies in return, instead of a rushed response after class. Tony also gets quite a bit of mileage out of his cell phone, moving between home, school, and work in constant communication.
Figuring It Out
Many students may not come to law school with experience in the different technologies available. We asked the students to identify which technology they had the hardest time learning to use. For Pam, the biggest challenge was learning how to navigate and search online. Her previous research experience had been primarily centered on books, library catalogs, and electronic indexes. Full-text searching using platforms on the Internet and FolioViews represented new avenues in research for Pam. Tony's school uses a wireless network, and his experience with wireless was limited when he first entered law school. Now not only is Tony comfortable with his school's wireless network, but also he has installed a wireless network in his home!
While Peter could not identify any specific technology hurdles due to his familiarity with technology as a network administrator, he did concede that students should find out if there are enough power outlets for laptops in the classroom. He suggested if there are not enough outlets, students should get long-lasting batteries and bring along backups. Amy responded that her biggest challenge came during a summer clerk position. She had to learn how to do research without the resources of a large law school library at her disposal and simultaneously strive to be conscious of the client's costs. This experience helped her to learn about free and low-cost websites for legal research.
- Pam: "My laptop." Pam asserts that while she is not a fast typist, she is a good keyboardist. She uses her laptop for taking notes, outlining, and reviewing.
- Peter: "My laptop." Peter claims that his handwriting is horrible, and the laptop helps when it comes time to edit notes. He color codes his text in Microsoft Word to distinguish between notes, reviews, outlines, homework, etc.
- Amy: "My Handspring Visor." Amy uses her handheld device to download law review publication schedules, create contacts, and send e-mail. She then can sync it all up with her Microsoft Outlook account at school.
- Tony: "My PalmPilot." He uses the reminders to keep him on time. Tony has it set to keep him abreast of coming events to the tune of Star Trek themes. He also is a fan of instant messaging and says it comes in handy when he misses something a professor says in class-he can send a message to another student to get caught up without having to interrupt the class.
Technology Musings and Advice
The law school students we interviewed have learned a few new things, honed their existing skills, and successfully made use of available technology. Whether setting up a wireless network at home or learning how to save a client money through well-honed Internet searches, these students have met their challenges and excelled. All agree that a laptop is an invaluable tool in law school. Pam reminds new students to learn to determine what is "good" information, to take advantage of the law librarians' skills, and not to "reinvent the wheel."
Tony looks forward to starting a solo practice using e-mail as one of his primary communication and networking tools. Peter suggests that law schools plan for desktop computers in the classroom to ease financial (and physical) strain on students. He envisions law professors loading their class outlines onto the Internet or intranet so that students can concentrate more on listening than taking furious notes. Finally, Amy looks forward to new versions of software, more integration, and new technologies to make her practice more efficient.
Catherine Sanders Reach, M.L.I.S., is a law firm library and legal research specialist at the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC).