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Show Me Your Battlestation (aka Law School Supplies)

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Hi all,

I'm an incoming 1L this year. I'm also a mature student and it's been a long, long time since I was last in school. With that in mind I wanted to pick the brains of current students as to what pieces of gear and technology they find indispensable to law school. Obviously Zoom school is different, and given that I've spent the past 12 months working remotely I feel I'm well situated for that, it's everything that you regularly use for in person classes that I'm more curious about. 

So what are everyone's indispensable items? 

  • Laptop: I'm assuming that this is a given. Thankfully I recently upgraded my work laptop to a brand new Macbook Pro, so I should be good to go. 
  • Productivity software: Microsoft Office Suite, OneNote / Notion (note taking software), some sort of calendar, etc... anything else? 
  • Backpack / Messenger Bag: I've needed to get a new messenger bag for a while, so this was already on the list, and I'm assuming a good one would be indispensable for in person classes.

I've spoken to some law students / lawyers who swear by using an iPad or tablet for reading and annotating cases (via the Westlaw App, PDF or otherwise). Is this common? Not having to lug around casebooks and reading everything digitally does have some appeal for an old fogey like me. 

I've also heard that a lot of folks swear by having some sort of second screen for their home office as well, either an external monitor or a iPad via something like Duet. Yes / no? 

Then there is, of course, all of the analog items: pens, highlighters, binders, bookstands, etc. Anything outside of the norm here that people swear by? 

Obviously, a lot of this is going to come down to personal preference and workflow, but curious to hear some tips and tricks from those that have that lived it.

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I'm currently a grad student and incoming 1L and having a tablet has been life-changing haha. Being able to highlight and annotate PDFs without printing them off is a lifesaver. I would be very curious if anyone could chime in and let us know how many PDFs you end up using in law school though - my impression was that it was mainly physical textbooks.

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2 minutes ago, bocuma said:

I'm currently a grad student and incoming 1L and having a tablet has been life-changing haha. Being able to highlight and annotate PDFs without printing them off is a lifesaver. I would be very curious if anyone could chime in and let us know how many PDFs you end up using in law school though - my impression was that it was mainly physical textbooks.

Lots of .pdfs. Core courses lean more towards using the physical textbook and nothing else, but many seminars and electives are heavy on .pdfs. I think I had some upper year courses where the course materials were just a dozen or so different .pdf readings every week. 

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I highly recommend a dual monitor workstation at home with a proper keyboard. Either a desktop or something you can hook up to a laptop works.

Also, cloud storage for your notes. Hard drives die and laptops get stolen, you don't want to be losing your notes if that happens.

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I'll also be an incoming 1L this Fall, so I'm here to learn from current students but also to share my undergrad setup if it's helpful. 

I have a Surface, so I can use it as a regular laptop or detach/fold to use the touchscreen. I also have a stylus for tablet mode and annotating/handwriting stuff, and recently got a mouse to make laptop mode easier. I use my phone as a second screen with a cloud storage that allows me to look at my computer files there. I understand a phone might be too small for some but I make it work. Cloud backup is a good idea regardless. Microsoft Office stuff comes free from my university, and I imagine (hope) law schools will offer the same. There's a program you can find online called f.lux that automatically adjusts the blue light from your screen for you, depending on time of day. Good for late nights. 

I have a regular backpack, and a backpack that can be used with wheels like carry-on luggage. Both are useful depending on how many heavy books or things I have to carry, but since the lockdown I've needed neither. 

An additional thing I've found helpful is a whiteboard calendar. I like being able to see the month ahead and have it all laid out, rather than digital reminders or a paper planner. 

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If you aren't familiar already, I would try to play around with google drive/google docs. Its great for group work, which you can expect to do a non-insignificant amount of.

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1 hour ago, lawstudent20202020 said:

I highly recommend a dual monitor workstation at home with a proper keyboard. Either a desktop or something you can hook up to a laptop works.

Also, cloud storage for your notes. Hard drives die and laptops get stolen, you don't want to be losing your notes if that happens.

^Endorsed.

Cloud storage is also great for being able to work on the same documents on your dual monitor workstation and your laptop. I think I pay ~$2/month for 250gb of storage through MS One Drive. It is well worth it.

Edited by flyingfish
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13 minutes ago, LabouriousCorvid said:

I would try to play around with google drive/google docs

I've found google drive to ruin the formatting when converting back to word files, so I've been using Onedrive for group projects. Although google drive is better overall IMO, the formatting issues with word aren't worth it 

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I built a PC during quarantine and plan on having it as my work space "home base". If you're willing to put in the time it can be a lot cheaper to build a quality PC than buy one that's pre-built. 

I'm definitely investing in a second monitor once I start school! It's a great asset for productivity - being able to have a reading open on one page while your notes are open on the other is a game changer.

During undergrad I brought a half-decent laptop to school every day that I'd use to take notes. Nothing crazy, just one small enough to carry around in my backpack and functional enough to open Google Docs and the prof's PowerPoint. I'll bring that to school on the daily and use my desktop while at home.

In first year Uni I tried writing by hand for a bit because every prof swore up and down that it made you remember things better. In the end, I couldn't write fast enough to get everything down and just ended up with hand cramps. That's just me though! YMMV.

Also - I use Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Slides and Google Sheets for basically everything. That's personal preference; they're free and tend to be less of a pain than some Microsoft programs like Word.

As for backpacks I've had a few classic ones that have lasted years! I'll keep using those until they fall apart 😛

Edited by Firecracker
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Copy/pasting a previous comment I made on this topic:

Some of the things I found helpful through my law degree:

  • An extra computer screen for productivity (only helpful if you study at home) [SERIOUSLY - productivity is significantly improved when you have 2 screens]
  • A good, simple coffee machine
  • A textbook stand! Easily fits into your bag and literally saves your neck when reading/taking notes from a textbooks
  • Reusable travel mugs/water bottles.
  • Highlighters (if you like to highlight notes/textbooks).
  • Sticky notes/tabs (get the rigid plastic tabs for tabbing your notes - they're must better than paper sticky notes when it comes to flipping pages)
  • A reliable printer (depending on your school, TRU has free printers everywhere if you bring your own paper)
  • A handful of nice pens (Pilot, Zebra, Parker, etc. - I used a Pilot Metropolitan and a Parker Jotter but there are much cheaper options)

I bought several notepads/books before 1L and literally never used them due to the dominance of laptops.

Also, most universities provide MS Office 365 for free for the entirety of your degree, including some OneDrive space. Dropbox and Google Drive also offer a decent amount of free cloud storage. I personally pay $2 USD/month for 100gb of Google Drive storage.

On the topic of bags, I will always be a proponent of backpacks for school. They're simply better for your back. I wish I could wear a backpack to the office. I kind of resent that backpacks aren't considered "work" appropriate.

EDIT: Shout out to Xodo for being the most useful (free) PDF reader/editor available. You can download the reader for your computer/phone AND the web app lets you re-arrange and combine PDF pages.

Edited by canuckfanatic
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Also for the backpack - my school provides backpacks for the entire 1L class, so depending on the school you go to, you might not need to get one as well. They're really high quality and I have been using mine all year. 

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2 hours ago, lawstudent20202020 said:

I highly recommend a dual monitor workstation at home with a proper keyboard. Either a desktop or something you can hook up to a laptop works.

For anyone willing to spend ~$150, you can buy a laptop dock. Imagine coming home from class/the library and plugging a single wire into your laptop and converting it into a full-on desktop PC experience. A dock can connect your laptop to multiple screens + mouse + keyboard + speakers through a single connection (USB-C, USB 3.0, or Thunderbolt).

Edited by canuckfanatic
typo
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5 minutes ago, Firecracker said:

+1 for coffee machine. You can't go wrong with a drip coffee maker. Or a pour-over, if you're only wanting to make a cup or two each morning.

You could get a drip coffee maker and a pour-over. And a cold brew pitcher. And a stove-top espresso maker. And an aeropress. And if you're making that many different types of coffee, you'll need an electric burr grinder.

Turn your apartment into a law-student-exclusive coffee shop.

Edited by canuckfanatic
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A few months ago I started using Notion. I've personally really enjoyed the tool for organizing my life, task tracking, storing interesting articles/research, and basically a good hub for my brain. 

It's simple and free to use, and you can tailor it to your own needs. I know some youtubers go crazy with it and advocate taking notes on it, I'm not sure if I'd do that when I start law school (prefer handwriting or one note), but it's a good catch all for organizing a busy life.

Sidecar feature if you have a MacBook and iPad is also great, love just being able to bring both devices and setting them up to create a duel screen setup on the go. 

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Is anyone using or planning to use Apple's new M1 processor for school? I've read that examsoft is now compatible but I'm still a little skeptical. Other than that the M1 looks very enticing as an upgrade to my 5 year old Chromebook.

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Just now, HotDiggity said:

Is anyone using or planning to use Apple's new M1 processor for school? I've read that examsoft is now compatible but I'm still a little skeptical. Other than that the M1 looks very enticing as an upgrade to my 5 year old Chromebook.

I bought the new M1 MacBook Air, was super nervous when there was no details on compatibility, but sounds like it's okay now. I assumed when I start school in the fall, they'd sort it out by then due to the sheer volume of students who buy MacBooks. 

So far, if it performs anything like other Rosetta 2 translated apps, it'll work without a hitch. 

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36 minutes ago, canuckfanatic said:

You could get a drip coffee maker and a pour-over. And a cold brew pitcher. And a stove-top espresso maker. And an aeropress. And if you're making that many different types of coffee, you'll need an electric burr grinder.

Just the essentials, amirite?

36 minutes ago, canuckfanatic said:

Turn your apartment into a law-student-exclusive coffee shop.

You could call it Law-ffee. Half price during exam season 🙃

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2 hours ago, bocuma said:

I'm currently a grad student and incoming 1L and having a tablet has been life-changing haha. Being able to highlight and annotate PDFs without printing them off is a lifesaver. I would be very curious if anyone could chime in and let us know how many PDFs you end up using in law school though - my impression was that it was mainly physical textbooks.

Seems like my 2-in-1 laptop/tablet will come in handy and will prove cost and space effective....haha

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2 hours ago, canuckfanatic said:

You could get a drip coffee maker and a pour-over. And a cold brew pitcher. And a stove-top espresso maker. And an aeropress. And if you're making that many different types of coffee, you'll need an electric burr grinder.

Turn your apartment into a law-student-exclusive coffee shop.

This was my kitchen until I traded them all in for a serious semi-automatic espresso machine.

Only rocking +10 coffee in this house.

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