The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Category: Law school

The paperless law student

The wondrous instrument of paper has many benefits – I drafted this post out in pen and then typewrote it to post so I’m convinced but it has other problems, not to mention filing and storage.

One approach is to borrow from the cutting edge of professional practice – to go paperless.

Paperlessness

This is simply the act of converting all paper documents to digital files and to keep the whole process digital as much as possible.  This requires a bit more computer power than just typing essays but give you searchability advantages and use everywhere abilities.

The catch

Professional lawyers are pointed towards the ScanSnap 1500/1500M which is a duplex, automatic document feeder model. This means you can simply leave a stack of papers in the feeder and come back to a folder full of OCR analysed searchable PDFs regardless of what other work you have to do.  This is what £400 of scanner buys you.  I consider that to be rather a lot of money to have to spend – my laptop cost me just £330 for contrast – on just the scanner part of the system and that is why I cannot quite recommend it for the average student.

Next is the difference between paper and on screen – you need quite a substantial scree to see all of a page at once – 17-19″ wide screen monitor turned 90 degrees is one option while a 24″ whopper should let you see two full pages side by side without shrinking the text down.  These are big monitors and certainly bigger than those found on laptops. I sometimes turn my laptop on its side and read like a bright, single sided book.  For desktop use, though a big monitor is the comfortable way to go so therefore an external big monitor a good move. That means two quite big purchases are recommended off the bat. If you’ve ever tried to look at a full page PDF (and then type an essay at the same time) you’ll realise how hard the task of researched writing can be in cramped conditions.

Going ahead

While I have made it clear that going paperless as you’re recommended to do it involves spending a fair bit of money I have made a try of it with nothing more than the multifunction printer I use to print off Amazon receipts.  This works but it’s quite slow (certainly at “full laser” resolution of 600dpi – to give good results if you need to print it out. I think that is unnecessary and 150dpi or so will work just as well, while being much quicker and saving you a fair bit of storage space) and I need to put each page in separately.  On the other hand this scanner can do books – which an ADF couldn’t – but feeding it individual sheets takes time.

That said – being able to put all my documents into the scanner and then copying the files to my laptop and having, at this point, years of files to flip through, if I need them.  Being able to search the files makes the range of material pretty broad.  Search cannot replace study and I would rather read paper copies on the bus but being able to put my hands on quotes and citations very quickly is always good.  Even my cut price version of paperless works well enough to be useful.

Thanks to the Lawyerist for the paperless tips and tricks as it relates to lawyers in professional practice.  I think their advice – spending more to get automatic document scanners, setting up workflows to handle the weight of paperwork that may cross their desks – is extremely advisable to professionals working under high pressure and under heavy workloads.  My advice is targetted towards students who probably do not need what is effectively a robot to do their scanning for them and could probably use the money elsewhere.  This needs to be balanced against the cost of waiting for a non ADF scanner to finish a stack of sheets however, since you need to feed each page by hand.

Snapter, a program I’ve discussed previously, is always a good option for mobile paperlessness as long as you get into the habit of following its requirements.

Attached is an example of the problem of monitor resolution – this was the previous blog post in scanned and OCR format. As you can see, the whole page width fits on one side of my laptop monitor and only the edge of the screen is left for the actual word processing document.  That is a strange set of priorities but one that would need a considerably higher resolution monitor than is present on my laptop to rectify.

OCR editing

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Exams are over

364 days since this blog started with a call to the first year exams I’m finished my second year ones. They are harder, it needs said, and much less fun this time round. If you let your classes get away from you the catchup is like dealing with jetlag.

I’m going to list some of the topics I’ve been saving up while the exams were cramping my style as an advance warning:

Highbrow: MP Expenses
Lowbrow: Pens (I’ve had enough time with these lately to get fairly interested in them)
and some more

Eugh

I’ve made a rather major mistake. This is what I write an anonymous blog for – it’s not anonymous for my successes, I’d much rather my successes were projected onto the moon but it’s the mistakes and the “non-successes” and controversial news that anonymity’s good for. I’m about to give the reader an object lesson in keeping on top of your uni work.

I was 2 days late with my holiday assignment. That’s not the end of the world but it’s a big thing at uni, that’s a 10% deduction right off the bat. I took a very relaxing and unproductive Christmas break assuming that my one piece of imminent written work was straight forward and short and could be dealt with quickly and I would be able to pretend that my break was more intellectual and less lazy and fattening than it happened to be.

It was not. I came home from a lovely weekend away the morning before it was due and looked over it. It was gargantuan and meandered across three vastly different areas of law. I swore, loudly, because there was nothing else I could really do.

I then gritted my teeth and sat up until it was done, as it happens that was two days of solid 4 hours sleep one night, none the next toil, and grabbing food to eat at my desk. The room I’m sitting in currently is a bomb site with plates and cups strewn around sitting on top of open books and a sleeping bag in the corner and I’m only just calmed down enough to start tidying it up.

The desk’s surface is inexplicably covered in a detailed pencil study of a tree I can see from my window that was drawn at a particularly bleak point around dawn this morning that saw me hit a wall. It’s actually rather beautiful and I’m much prouder of it than I am the assignment.

It’s very grim. I have read enough to produce a treatise on three areas of law and then boiled it down to produce an essay far short of the word limit (read: word suggestion), that and the long hours staring at a computer screen have left my eyes bloodshot and weepy and I’ve never appreciated being able to sleep more in a long time. I can’t sleep though, I’m still feeling far too flush with adrenaline from trying to make it to the deadline (or at least before I ended up 3 days late) and that’s why I handed in such a small effort. I checked the delivery status of my assignment with my heart in my mouth and then I immediately got up to stand under the shower for 40 minutes.

I’m concerned because this is one of my feared “professional subjects” – the ones that decide your application to the post graduate Diploma in Legal Practice that’s pretty much a required step for the wannabe lawyer and the assignment was for a great deal more of the total mark than my other subjects and not only do these grades affect your entry to the diploma, they also affect the quality of the scholarships you may or may not qualify for. It’s a very expensive couple of months and a scholarship’s not to be sniffed at. As it happens I get my undergraduate degree fees paid for by Mr Salmond, if I’m honest I’d much rather he paid for my post graduate studies because I can much easier meet the subsidised fees I get written off by the SAAS each year.

Flunking an assignment for a professional subject isn’t the end of the world but it’s stressful and a needless headache if you had weeks with not much in the way of university obligations and it’s a task to make up the difference in the written exam later on if, really, you could have avoided it by just working through the new Jonathan Creek (although it was quite good) and Wallace and Gromit (which was its quirky, nostalgic, British golden self) . There’s a few subjects that you want to make sure you actually pass – your big credit earning ones, your professional subject and anything you took because a professional regulatory body told you to. This class here happened to be all three.

And when I say “you” what I mean is “me.”

My advice to any and all students is:

  1. Read your assignments over, not just the question but also the other bits of helpful paper you’re given.
    I thought I was dealing with a cute problem solving scenario to tear through using the textbook, Westlaw and the 4 part structure right until I discovered I was supposed to make it  the length of a small book the day I was supposed to send it to be marked.
  2. Have a diary or calendar that you use every day.
    I personally use my mobile phone’s calendar which lets me plug in all the dates that I’d possibly need (I’m not that busy a person 😉 ) and I’ve set it up to remind me either the week before or the day before before every appointment. It’s crazy and it’s over kill but it means that I know when I need to drag the sleeping bag under the computer desk. This particular assignment was left out in a memory full bug that was cured a good bit after the homework had slipped my mind and I thought it wasn’t due in until next week.
  3. Have a backup diary that won’t run out of memory at the worst possible time.
    I know, it’s incredibly tedious keeping a handwritten diary up to date but if I did it better I’d be sitting here thinking how generally smug I was that I got my coursework in on time.
  4. Be honest that you (meaning I) have the impulse control of a crack addict when it comes to doing anything that isn’t schoolwork.
    Sometimes, even if you’re even the most ardent law fan (as I like to think I am) you’ll realise that the holidays with all the friends who moved away to other towns coming home and seeing family and all the other parts of holidays is just much better than sitting reading the works of the institutional writers in an all-too empty library until your eyes start to puff up. Bite the bullet and get any work you need done, done. Then sit back and think how smug you get to be about it. One of my friends gets her assignments done at least 2 weeks before the due date and I’ve known her two years now and I still think she must have the discipline needed to only take one After 8 mint and I admire her in the same way I admire astronauts. That’s a bad sign. I’m great at reading but not so good at sitting down and doing the written work, try and get a balance in your own studies.

Merry Christmas from SLS (And “Don’t mess with my computer”)

christmas-tree

Merry Christmas to everyone who reads this, I hope the holiday is relaxing and no one needs to do too much today. I’m looking forward to ridiculous calorific intake over many hours today, it’s at least one day of the year when the Pot Noodle is simply not on the menu for students after breakfast.

I thought I’d mention a story from across the pond which might reassure everyone who thinks they might be taking this law thing “too seriously.”

Alex Botsios is a 1L (first year of law school) at Arizona State University. Like many students his dorm room is a ripe target for thieves. One particularly bold individual appeared in his room through the unlocked window during the night brandishing a baseball bat. The thief (committing aggravated theft, of course) demanded he hand over his possessions. Botsios, being trapped in a room with an armed man, agreed and later said:

“ he had no problem giving a nighttime intruder his wallet and guitars. “

However, greed was to be this thief’s downfall, not content with the gift of music he went back for more:

“When the man asked for Botsios’ laptop, however, the first-year law student drew the line.

“I was like, ‘Dude, no — please, no!” Botsios said. “I have all my case notes…that’s four months of work!” “

I agree with this feeling, I slipped on ice during the recent freeze and escaped a pretty nasty injury by landing on my laptop and cushioning my fall with a mighty cracking sound and I recall, straight through the sense of embarrassment at decking it and the pain of landing so heavily that I felt physically sick, firstly because I might have had to find the money to buy a new computer from somewhere and also because I might have lost my work right before I was to submit assignments.

Botsios, unlike myself, had a target to vent his rage at and attacked his robber. Literally, he managed to hospitalise a hardened robber in his quest to save his laptop.

“ At that point, the law student wrestled the bat away and began punching Saucedo, Botsios said.

“I basically grabbed him and threw him this way, and he held onto the bat so it threw him to the ground,” he said.

Police said they took Saucedo to the hospital for stitches before they arrested him on charges of armed robbery and kidnapping. Other than a bruised knuckle and a few scratches, Botsios was unharmed.“

In a fairly amazing job of rubbing salt into the robber’s not-only-figurative wounds he left with this final quote:

“It’s my baby,” he said. “Don’t mess with my computer.”

A sentiment I think we can all get behind at T minus 1 hour to a deadline.

And the man who suffered all this?  This is the robber, stitched lip and all:

This is the man after the law student was done with him

NB: Speaking as a not very secret IT person I would recommend that anyone else who has invested enough into their work to fight to defend it from robbers should invest in a reliable backup strategy so that even if you wake up or come home to find your dorm / house trashed and your laptop missing you can still get back to work quickly.

The thought occurs that this is a big enough topic and important enough to be a blog entry on its own at a later date, so stay tuned.

Notes

I take notes in lectures using a ballpoint pen and seemingly endless pads of paper which all get collected together by subject into a big file in my bookcase at home, this year I managed to fill and a bit extra a lever arch file with handwritten lecture notes. There’s a lot of material covered in lectures.
I was warned that bringing too many notes into university leaves me at the risk of losing huge amounts of work in the case of my bag being snatched or misplaced, or perhaps just falling in water. (Glasgow has a couple of big rivers running through it and I’m comfortable admitting that if my bag fell into either I would just have to let it go.)

I’ve not seen the levels of crime that seem to affect students at other universities, we have the odd warning about opportunists in the library but nothing approaching a crime wave so I feel alright carrying relative valuables (not real valuables, I’m a student remember) and I could claim those back on my insurance if I really had to. But notes are awkward to replace – I’d have to hunt down a colleague and photocopy sheet after sheet to get back to where I was before. It’s a thought that I’m more concerned about my notes than my laptop.

I’ve tried typing notes during a lecture, but firstly I felt self conscious with my happy, noisy typing style. there’s a bit difference to writing down every word the lecturer says with a quiet pen and tapping it into a computer, so I was immediately put off the lecture. Secondly, remember to disable any alerts you have on your laptop, if Outlook is retrieving email at the same time as you’re typing it might not disrupt your typing but it will distract you. A lot of my problems stemmed from being distracted by the fact I was typing instead of writing. The other point is the speed of setting up a laptop is more than the same process with paper – pretty much uncap your pen and pull a pad out of your bag, so you spend a little more time at the start of the lecture getting into the right mindset. This does not even begin to consider if you get distracted and accidentally wander onto bebo.com or youtube.com at which point you can consider your participation in a lecture to be over.  It’s hard enough to catch up in a lecture that you’ve come late for never mind one which you have tuned out of and given a generally more interesting distraction.

The benefits of typed notes are clear though – they are searchable, always legible (although still with the same hazard of not necessarily making sense to you afterwards) and more compact. Other commentators who do take typed notes admit they are more likely to look back over typed notes than written notes, which means that as far as a revision aid goes the typed notes are better.

There’s a lot to be said to taking notes with a pen – firstly there’s a pragmatic issue of muscle memory, your brain is likely to associate writing with language from a much earlier age than typing on a keyboard so you’re more likely to retain the information, the information is also being reinforced in a form which is the same as how you want to be able to express it – with a pen during an exam making it a more efficient process. Clearly, if you go into an exam and your secret weapon to pass is the fact that you’ve written your lecture notes out you may be disappointed but the issue is there – your brain will have a delay interpreting your typing revision to be the same as the written essay answers because it’s a different motor skill.

Remembering that university is supposed to help you build skills for later life, remember that there’s an entirely different body language given off by someone writing notes and someone typing notes. In a professional legal situation, the fact your lawyer is scribbling notes and the fact your lawyer is typing those same notes into their computer mean exactly the same thing – your story is being listened to and the trained legal professional is taking a record of important details. They just look different – the person behind the counter at the bank also types into a computer as you give details but as a profession the law tries to get away from the image of themselves as the people behind a counter, the creative lawyer writing stories for you to get you out of a problem is a better look to go for. You may work as a person behind a counter for money as you study but no one endures the work load a law degree involves hoping to become the equivalent of the person behind the counter.

It’s a tiny difference but there’s a lot to be said about small differences in body language which significantly affect the overall experience. I also find that I write considerably faster than I type, and I can simply get more details onto paper in a lecture if it’s through a pen – in this your mileage may vary, I was actually using my sister’s computer for university before my primary school gave me chunky pencils but I can still write faster than I can type no matter what I try.

I would never, ever submit a handwritten document to a paying client, whether as a lawyer or as a plumber, (Actually, I might submit my hand written receipt as a plumber because the illegibility might hide what I charged for) because I feel the look of a handwritten document, particularly a messy one, would take away from the hoped for quality of the content. If my penmanship was infallible and looked professional I would reconsider this immediately. This is similar to taking notes, for your own use, by hand for the image that it lends. It’s a matter of appearance for a world where appearance is extremely important – sharp suits are as much an indicator of your economic success as they are a pleasure to wear and people may not like to see a lawyer in an expensive suit but nevertheless like to be represented by someone who appears successful, and therefore good at their job. It’s just as important to try to distinguish yourself as a lawyer from other professionals who someone might deal with, you’re not being paid to tell someone what they can’t do, you’re being paid to use your imagination to tell them how they could do it and acting in a way that implies your creativity is never a bad thing in that situation.

Book review EU law – Jacqueline Martin and Chris Turner

“The comprehensive guide to all the facts”
“The law at your fingertips… Key facts has been specifically written for students studying Law. It is the essential revision tool for a broad range of law courses.
Written and edited by an expert team of authors whose experience means they know exactly what is required in a revision aid. They include examiners, barristers and lecturers. They have brought their expertise and knowledge to the series to make it user-friendly and accessible.

Company Law
Constitutional Law
Administrative Law
Consumer Law
Contract Law
Criminal Law
Employment Law
The English Legal System
Equity and Trusts
Evidence Law
Family Law
Human Rights
Jurisprudence
Land Law
Tort

Chris Turner LLM is a qualified barrister and Senior Lecturer in Law at Wolverhampton University. He has taught law at all levels. He is also series editor of Unlocking the Law and Key Cases, both p¬ublished by Hodder Arnold.
Jacqueline Martin LLM has ten years experience as a practicing barrister and has taught law at all levels. She is also series editor of Unlocking the Law and Key Cases, both published by Hodder Arnold.

It’s a very good book for people who are studying EC law – unfortunately, as found I when I came to do my assignment, it’s almost too good and I found myself constantly trying to reword my own essay to avoid any copying of the book’s extremely useful potted outline. Despite being a very small book it manages to contain all the information that you might possibly require for an introduction, all backed up immediately with primary sources – quotes from the official English European Court of Justice judgements and English version of the relevant Treaties.

Mooting

I’ve just had my first round of the law’s school’s internal law moot competition for this year.

What is mooting?

Mooting is a style of student debating – it was originally used in Inns of Court to train pupil barristers and advocates. The name comes from the moot problem which the competitors argue over– a problem which doesn’t matter but we discuss it anyway for the practice.

It’s good because it lets real trainee advocates and barristers practice their presentation and preparation skills without the risk of actually consigning a real person to years in jail. It’s all the stages of a regular court appearance, the finding and locating cases, constructing a legal argument to support your client and then presenting it in front of an arbiter while another person argues exactly the same point on the opposite side.

Why do I moot

I personally joined up in first year because it sounded very cool, in a geeky law student way. I didn’t sign up to law school for the essay assignments after all –I’m not concerned about the money I can earn from being a fully qualified lawyer yet, since that’s in the future and I’m still learning but I do, and have always, loved public speaking. When you combine that with my long lasting interest in law and my interest in how it works it’s completely natural and inevitable that I’d join my mooting society.

Having actually done it, last year my one and only question was on a topic that forced me to read ahead an entire semester and I suddenly discovered that not only was this really interesting it was also extremely helpful to my own.

This year it was a look over a topic I’d studied from the very start of my studies – criminal –and it was fascinating to go back and, instead of roughly scanning it within the limits of the accredited course from the Law Society and learning those cases and principles that were potentially going to turn up in the exam but not one paragraph further because I was working on other subjects at the same time. The moot problem gave me an incentive to go back and really read my textbook with more care than I previously did.

I very quickly discovered that you only study the rough edges of the course when you sit in your hour long lectures in your first, painful months of student life and that coming back and looking at the textbooks – reading them in a very focused, time conscious way is a great way to pick up an entirely different understanding of the law which will stick with you.

Why should you moot

Mooting is a much a game as it is a performance art. It’s a pubic speaking opportunity played by people who hope to become professionals – therefore there’s huge potential for the quality of your competition to be utterly astonishing. The level at the beginner stage is safe enough to step up into and since the scoring is more to do with the style of your presentation and ability to keep some rules in your head than any understanding of the law involved. Occasionally, with a sympathetic judge, a good understanding of the principles involved will carry you through but nevertheless – you aim to win on style while your opponents should be happy with the consolation prize of winning on the law.

There’s more money in it than high school debating as well, just as law firms like to show largess to student competitions you can see sponsored contests where the competitors walk away with both money and a nod in the job market. Speaking as someone who once won a handful of Argos vouchers for a national inter-school competition I’ll never get over the prizes of law competitions.

What it’s good for

Mooting should not always be seen as an educational experience – even though it’s a particularly good one and you’ll never, ever forget the points you’ve forcibly scored into your brain – because it’s also extremely good fun. It’s innately social – you’re working with another law student at close quarters for a long time and you make good friendships through it.

You work astonishingly hard when you’re preparing a moot. I’m not the most dedicated worker the world has ever seen yet as soon as I’m introduced to the social sanction of letting my well prepared partner down in the moot court it’s hard to separate me from my books.

It boosts your presentation skills, while most obviously it’s a crash course at presenting orally for up to 15-20 minutes at a time you also have to prepare a bundle for yourself and the judge and the presentation of these is another issue which is worth looking into. The bundle needs artfully juggled as you tell the judge where your next quote is coming from and this is a useful preparation skill in itself. Too often I find myself only reading the basic principle from a textbook or journal article and not looking to the primary source to give my argument support, it’s a terrible academic technique and it’ll never succeed in mooting, so you stop it very quickly.

It boosts your presentation skills – this bears repeating. You talk, present, on a technical point of law for a double figures of minutes (at least 10 minutes) periods of time. This is an eternity to spend on your feet and it teaches you skills, including simply the stamina to keep going, which you can’t pick up talking in other ways. If you want to become an advocate or a barrister, this is something you need to look at improving and training. The small sized group and competitive nature means that there is little problem standing up and talking, so it’s good for people who suffer from performance nerves. Genuinely, in the years I have been mooting there is no one present who is looking for you to mess up. Both of the teams are too focused on their own points, the clerk is more concerned about court behaviour and timing and the judge has a fairly hard interactive role to perform to cheer for any individual’s mistakes.

If you attend a university with a good society it’s altogether a fantastic social experience and I think, although this blog stays out of details, that my own society is lead by a number of very talented and very nice people who look after new members in particular extremely well. If you attend law school in Glasgow you have a one in three chance of getting to experience this.
Remember, the societies attached to your law school are even more important than the lectures. You can catch up on nearly all the material covered in lectures on your own time from books but you’ve only got the short time you’ve got in university to attend the clubs and societies. Don’t miss out on the extra bits, they’re often very useful and they can be fantastically good fun.

Student Law Review

I dropped by my law school this week on the way to the library and picked up a copy of the current student law magazines while I was there.

The Student Law Review, published by Routledge Cavendish is a publication bordering on the “terrifyingly polished” and I find it to be a very interesting read that I try to pick up whenever I can.

I’ve done a quick and rough digest of the contents of this edition, and it’s a very, very long post so I’ve added it after the break. I will be back later to fact check but right now I’m just impressed at myself for getting this typed up. These are in no way the whole articles, or indeed perfect outlines of the articles themselves, I was more interested in putting out what the publication covers instead of violating the copyright on the articles themselves:

Read the rest of this entry »

How to generate pdfs of books or case reports while in the library

I’ve been looking at programs which may help me in my studies. One of the most promising I’ve found is one which is intended to allow people to create multi page pdf copies of any documents, books, whiteboards or cards they can photograph. The whiteboard mode is surprising and I’m not certain it fits into my current teaching style, however, there is nothing quite like being able to see exactly what the teacher has written on a whiteboard long after the lesson has finished.

It’s called Snapter and I’m pleasantly surprised with how effective it is. I tested it out with my camera phone and a copy of 100 Cases Every Scots Law Student Should Know and and as long as you remember to abide by the rules the program gives you: take the photos from straight above with the spine vertical in the image then you can reliably create a very readable pdf from the images. It’s not a quick process, and it’s almost certainly the most processor intensive application you will ever use for your legal studies but the results are very surprising and usable. I’ve done an example here with Scott Adam’s “Way of the Weasel” which I chose because it includes text boxes and images alongside text – so it’s actually more complicated to scan than most law textbooks.

Snapter has a deceptively simple design of interface for what is a powerful program with many features and controls hidden in the boxes, for the best results you should set the controls each time you use Snapter but the defaults manage well on their own. I found the most useful option was the “original size

Basic photographic principles apply If you used a higher resolution camera and better lens with a tripod you would see better results than these, these test shots came from my 3.2Megapixel SE k800i camera phone which I chose because it’s the only camera I routinely take to the library. Users with newer phones with 5 or more megapixel cameras will almost certainly find that the pdfs produced are extremely readable even on small text. I intend to use Snapter to replace my photocopying, this makes the $50 pricetag for the full version (needed to fully enable the program’s Book mode after the free trial expires) extremely affordable. With photocopying running at about 3-6p per sheet the expense of photocopying personal copies of cases becomes substantial. Also, filing the vast amounts of photocopying which you naturally generate as a law student is a task which requires considerable discipline to avoid the dreaded student “pile of paper under the desk”, being able to directly create pdfs of reference books without needing to photocopy them is more economical and more ecological, with the added advantage of not being able to lose the files as easily as the photocopies.

There are other book scanning solutions but these tend to rely on the user being able to scan the book using a specially designed flatbed scanner(for example the PlusTek Optiscan) which is less than ideal in a law library. Snapter’s advantage comes from the convenience of being able to take a record of the exact text you need on the fly using nothing other than the devices you would already be carrying.

You can use it to inexpensively produce copies of cases for other people as well, instead of needing to recopy each page of your own photocopy for others you can simply email the pdf around, and you can also do the processing on your laptop as you are in the library, all while using your university’s reproduction licence. It’s not the fastest process so be aware that it will both drain battery life and take its time but it’s the only example of automatically transforming photos of books into documents that I’ve seen.  It’ll save paper, money and the environment in its own small way.

The direct competitor to this are the online legal databases which also give you the option of downloading a digital copy of the report to your computer and I find these a better option than hurriedly produced snapter pdfs, however, Westlaw does not provide copies of textbooks nor does it provide copies of cases which are either very old or very obscure and it is these situations where snapter shines.  If your law library provides paper copies of journals or law reports which are not available online in full text format then you need some way to make a copy for yourself.

With many of the most sought after books only available on loan from the library for a matter of hours a student may sometimes find that they spend the entire time they have with the book running it through a photocopier instead of reading it. A fast camera can take photos of every page of a textbook within a university’s stort loan time, this means that books which are extremely sought after (for example the set textbook) can be copied out. The prohibitive expense of photocopying a textbook is considerably lessened when you are operating in the fixed cost of a digital camera and a copy of Snapter, and remember that with law textbooks retailing for around £40 (and science subjects cost even more) from the university bookshop any use that a student can get from the library is to be pounced on.

For those students who are also looking using snapter to produce copies of music, students in Glasgow can use the libraries of other higher education institutions, including the Glasgow School of Art and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama on a reference only basis which means that you can use the RSAMD to find sheet music for yourself.  I read here that Snapter was less impressive at capturing music books but I disagree based on my experiences using the newest version.

I was so surprised that snapter gave such poor results on capturing music that I immediately grabbed a book of scales off my shelf and tried it for myself, I believe I have a newer version than was tested since I downloaded my copy last night. Again, I used a Sony Ericsson k800i camera phone which is only 3.2Mpx and although some of the text is smudged (small bold text had a harder time of it) because of the resolution and the height I had to take the picture at to get both pages in frame the edges of the picture were detected perfectly and there was no issue seeing marks on semiquavers or the like.

I’m all for snapter, I think it’s designed for times you couldn’t bring an automated book scanner with you – in my case when I’m at the reference library and it does very well using even phone photos in those situations. It beats having to scan photocopies at home or having no copy at all, that’s for sure. I think it will provide a very important service for students above all, but remember that the possiblity to generate digital versions of paperwork is often very useful even just for collaboration with other people by email. For instance emailing digital copies of forms to other professionals. Consider Snapter to be an extremely flexible (allowing for the easily foxed edge detection), inexpensive digitiser which can be used anywhere that a photocopier or a scanner would also work, with much less footprint and less time spent with the original.

Software for law school

Having shelled out for your shiny new (or shiny used, both suit law school) computer you will need to fill it with software. You will not find yourself needing a great deal of software for your study at law school – as requirements go it’s a pretty straightforward list.

Firstly, you will need a word processor, this is a given at law school and it will be difficult to use a computer without one for any school. Generally the only requirement is that you submit marked work in a format which your law school can understand – in my case this means .doc (or .rtf, but you lose some of the features of the former). These formats cover nearly every word processing system in the world. .Doc is officially Microsoft Word’s format but it has been reverse engineered a number of times over the years and is now available in nearly all competing products.

I personally use Microsoft Word 2007 for writing my papers and even these posts but there are a number of extremely good competing programs available. The most famous is probably OpenOffice.org which is available for all the systems a law student would consider using, the best element in OO.o’s favour is that is sold free. Another is Google Docs which has the advantage of letting you access any documents you have written using a web browser – this avoids problems of leaving files on your computer at home. You are able to edit the documents as you would in any other word processor and, like the others, this also supports .doc. If you are willing to convert files between programs you may be interested in using a program such as DarkRoom (originally seen on the Mac as WhiteRoom) which allows you to simply write onto the screen with no other distractions, it’s a good move if you’re using your computer for taking typed notes, but beware – DarkRoom lacks features such as a spellcheck, word count, most certainly does not complete words for you and cannot save in .doc format, but never the less it is an entirely different way of writing which can avoid you being distracted by any other items on the screen and that is a valuable .

Secondly, presentation software – today you can often use the Powerpoint slides that a professor has lectured with to help you study. These files are a lot less compatible with competing products but I have had good results from both OpenOffice’s presenter and Google’s in displaying the slides. Fortunately the first casualties in a compatibility problem are fancy effects while you are really only concerned with the content of the slide. PC and Mac versions are available for each of the options given. OpenOffice and Google Docs will also run straight away using Linux if anyone wishes to use that option – probably most likely on an ultra low cost laptop like an EeePC. Running Microsoft Office on these ultra low cost laptops is very possible but somewhat more convoluted.

Third is a good pdf reader. I happen to prefer PDFs to doc files for files I want to have a permanent, read only record of – like case reports. I would not want to run the risk of having accidentally erased part of a case which I would like to later rely on and it also helps me physically distinguish my own work from research at a glance.

Options abound for pdf readers, Adobe’s own free Acrobat Reader is very effective but is becoming increasingly bulky with features added which are not necessarily helpful. You may get better performance from a lighter program such as Foxit Reader which provides the same functionality – you’ll still be able to read your case reports but you’ll also be able to annotate it as well, which is a major advantage that the free Acrobat Reader can’t do, the $299 version of Acrobat can but that’s extremely expensive and not really intended for students to use. All of the major legal databases provide an option to save cases to your computer in pdf format so this makes a lot of sense while researching.

Finally, a web browser, as mentioned there is such a thing as a online legal database which you will use a lot at law school, my personal favourite is Westlaw but there are many others available which provide subtly different sources and interfaces for you to use, some resources such as HUDOC (the European Court of Humans Right’s portal) are nigh on essential for taking part in some classes. I’m still waiting for someone to develop some form of meta search for these but I think that day cannot be long off. Through these your web browser will give you access to case reports, journal articles and legislation. In fact, the internet is rapidly becoming the best research tool you have. Critically, your university library will almost certainly use an electronic record service, this may allow you to browse the catalogue and reserve books until you travel to the library physically, one of the sneakier moves is to reserve books from the lecture hall as they’re announced to improve your chances of getting the rare library copies of assigned textbooks. This saves a lot of time looking for books and time saved away from fruitlessly perusing the stacks is worth its weight in gold when you are working hard on assignments. Your web browser will probably be the only program that you use for degree work more than your word processor.

I should mention that LexisNexis has changed greatly since even I started my law degree and is much more responsive when used with a browser other than Microsoft Internet Explorer. I was disapointed with the need for Lexis to reload its sources page every time I clicked one box, as opposed to letting me select a number at once, this has now been fixed and the main draw of Lexis – the dizzing array of searchable sources – can now be properly used in Opera and other non Internet explorer browser. This also makes the choice of using a Mac or Linux computer a better option than it used it to be as there is no loss of functionality when using Lexis.

My copies of Word and Powerpoint are official versions which came as part of Microsoft Office 2007 Ultimate, normally this is hugely excessive and I would not recommend it but in the first part of my first year Microsoft started a teachers and students only service allowing them to buy the Ultimate version for £40 if they could provide a valid .ac.uk email address, which I consider reasonable enough to purchase, considering that I will use the program for years as it has all the functionality that I need. Had this deal not come around I was planning to use OpenOffice but decided that I wanted to use OneNote so this made the deal very good.

OneNote is really a good program – it provides you with a mixed media digital notebook, it lets you combine your pdf case reports, typed (or recorded) lecture notes and supports handwriting support. I’ve even been able to use the movie insert function for webcasts. It means that all your notes are combined into one searchable form, and searches are not always perfect for law students to use (I advise everyone to avoid searching for words when reading cases), but being able to find specific points in textbooks or lecture notes (like being able to search for “remedies” for instance) very quickly is a great time saver which would have taken a good deal longer even with a casual scan through yourself. I find the virtual printer that it adds to your system indispensible as a way of getting a permanent record of a page without using a printer. I also use OneNote as a way of saving my receipts from online shops without wasting paper, if it should happen that I need to print a copy of the timestamped record off – I have one stored in OneNote.

Computers have really revolutionised the way that people study law and if you plan out your methods in advance you can really benefit from having a computer with you while on campus. Don’t underestimate how much of your degree can be solved through books and there’s nothing worse than reading a book later in the year and realising it would have been helpful.

I personally try to do as much research as possible online, as far as finding reports and journal articles goes – simply because photocopying begins to be a considerable cost when you factor in the amount of reading that we have to do – and not to mention that I find myself sidetracked by getting into conversations with people once I’m at the library. I also prefer having a .pdf record of the case on my usb stick rather than a thick and heavy paper stack in my bookcase, not to mention the effect this must have on the environment. When presenting you should have a hard copy of the case or article which you are relying on, ideally with a copy to hand out to the significant parties, such as the other side and the judge during a moot, ready to hand in case clarification on a point you do not personally remember is called for but when researching to type up assignments there is a lot less difficulty in simply using the copy on your computer, especially for bibliographical data.