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1L Tech Shopping List: Things You Need, Things You Don't

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

For most incoming law students, 1L starts in just a few weeks. At this point, you're probably figuring out apartment leases, moving trucks, and tying up loose ends in your current living situation. But when 1L arrives, you'll want to be prepared and ready to jump right in.

A couple of weeks ago, we have you a list of supplies to get you started, but being the resident geek in the building, I figured a little tech talk was also in order.

Here are a few things you need, technology-wise, and some that you don't:

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Must Buys

  • Laptop: Duh. Everyone uses a laptop to take notes nowadays. Make sure yours is in good working condition and is comfortable to use -- a "mini" laptop, like an old netbook or an 11-inch MacBook Air, might be great for portability, but could grow tiresome after eight-hour study sessions. My personal preference was a tiny netbook for class, with an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse at home. Today? You'd have to pry my 13-inch MacBook Air from my cold, dead hands.
  • Cloud Storage: It doesn't matter which: OneDrive, DropBox, Box, etc. Just have a cloud storage provider and save all of your notes, papers, and outlines to that drive. Everyone knows somebody who had a hard drive failure or a spilled-liquids disaster during finals week. A free automatic backup makes such disasters mere hiccups, especially if your school has loaner laptops.
  • Note-Taking Software: Microsoft Word is good, but OneNote or Evernote (both of which back up your data to the cloud, by the way) are even better, as they allow you to quickly add diagrams, embed images, video, or audio, and organize notes in a less restrictive manner than the typical word processor. Both are free (though Evernote has a premium tier for unlimited syncing of notes between devices).
  • An Eye Exam: You're going to be spending 16-hour days in the library, reading from screens and books with tiny print. Even if you don't have insurance, a $50 eye exam from your local big box store is a worthwhile investment. I know, this isn't exactly tech, but still: Monitors, smartphones, and tablets all lead to one thing: eye fatigue.
  • Laser Printer: Yeah, you can go mostly paperless, but for printing out papers and resumes, or for when you're sick of staring at a screen, a reliable printer is a must. Look for a laser printer with auto-duplexing (double-sided prints save paper) and cheap replacement toner cartridges. Wi-Fi printing is extremely handy as well.

Not Needed

  • Desktop Computer: Yeah, they're cheaper, but they're also going to be chained to the desktop -- while your externships, group projects, study sessions in the library, etc., will all demand portability. Sure, you can have a cheap-and-light laptop, and a powerhouse desktop, but that's probably not going to save you any money.
  • "Desktop Replacement" Laptop: You've seen these: 20-inch screens, 48 pounds of heft, but because the screen folds down, they label it a "laptop." Fortunately, today, you have a ton of powerful yet svelte options: Macbook Pro 13-inch, MacBook Air, Windows-based "Ultrabooks," convertible 2-in-1 tablet/netbooks, etc. (I've had everything from an 8.9-inch netbook to a 17-inch behemoth, and for me, the sweet spot is a 13-inch screen. Try the keyboard out in the store as well -- you'll be typing millions of words on it for the next couple of years.)
  • iPad or Android Tablet: Not necessary, but they are a lot of fun. Personally, I love reading books and webpages on a tablet, rather than a computer. But you're going to be reading casebooks, or copying-and-pasting from caselaw, or doing other productive things. Tablets are consumption devices, meant for browsing, reading, watching, not for producing. These are, in essence, a luxury.

Is there anything that we missed? If so, send us a tweet (@FindLawLP) or post a comment on our FindLaw for Legal Professionals Facebook page.

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