The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Tag: Law school

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 »

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Computers for law school

I’ve been planning to make a post on this for a while now but I thought it would make the most sense during the summer. A computer is, near enough, a requirement for law school nowadays. We may not be at the level of business students who need a laptop with them to be taught how to present but there is still a lot of benefit to having a computer with you. My university has embraced IT in a big way and there are plenty of computers available for students to use on campus and it is very possible for someone to get by on these alone for their typing use.

The question is if someone needs to use a computer at irregular hours (typing a paper at 11pm for a midnight submission is not impossible) or for a long time because then using one in a university computer lab might not ideal. Having a computer available to use on your own terms is ideal, and will let you work in a way that you find more natural to you.  People who study at night may particularly appreciate this freedom.

The requirements that law students have are pretty minimal and the most important factor is a word processor which can save in a format which markers will accept, most commonly Microsoft Word files (.doc). If you are shopping on a tight budget never forget that the primary medium you will use during your degree is the written word – coursework assignments for a media student stretch to DVD sizes, coursework for a law student can be around just 100 kilobytes of nonetheless painstakingly researched text. It could be just as much work but you don’t need nearly as powerful the computer to do it. It is very possible to buy a used computer and use it successfully during your degree: you will not be at a disadvantage if you use a non Core 2 Duo laptop.

PC or Mac?

This is a very general decision and the choice to use an Apple computer will not hinder you at law school. If you are able to afford a Macbook Pro or are happy to settle for using some older models of Powerbook you may find the particularly good keyboards make typing assignments a little more comfortable but it is a very subjective issue and the best test will be to try the keyboard out before buying the computer. Apple hardware is well made in my experience and is a useful accessory for university. PCs are just as useful and the programs you will need for your degree are generally very similar, a word file saved on a Mac will be identical to a word file saved on a PC and the reference databases are generally exactly the same on either platform. LexisNexis is picky about the system that you use to access it, however but is still usable without the Windows and Internet Explorer it recommends.

Desktops

Briefly, I think that students who are living on or near campus are perfectly able to operate a desktop as their main computers, using portable storage and campus computers as needed. However, I do not recommend that someone buy a new desktop for law school over a laptop – many students in this situation will end up buying a laptop for themselves anyway.  Desktops are bulkier, heavier and more flexible than laptops and there is still a price premium for portable computers, so there are benefits for a student aiming for one of these.  As a student who is fond of using wireless networks to check my mail in the park I think it’s really worth the (now invisible) cost. However, you also eliminate a lot of the theft problem. The problem is that the primary benefit of desktops is the extra power that is available. It used to be that a basic desktop cost much less than a comparable laptop but the difference has narrowed greatly. Instead the advantage is now the extra power available – additional power which law students do not honestly need for their studies. If I was doing a media degree and needed to process video or similar at home (but universities allow you to process your video on their workstations) for coursework I would consider having access to a computer with a fast processor, big screen and lots of storage to be a positive investment for my education. Instead, I’m doing law, which is much less strenuous on hardware. A law student only needs a word processor and a web browser and for the most part everything else is extra functionality.

Laptops

The quintessential law school laptop was highlighted by the movie Legally Blonde, released in 2001, and it contains a scene where every student (except from Reese Witherspoon) sat behind an IBM Thinkpad, which is now produced by Lenovo. This visual joke has a lot of truth to it; a Thinkpad is a wonderful tool for a law student. My own (slightly dated) experience of the keyboards is that they were as good as billed, and a law student can expect to be typing for their degree enough to be sick of it. A good keyboard is a very good idea for your own health and productivity.

Interestingly, Witherspoon’s own choice from Legally Blonde – the Clamshell iBook – is still a passable option for a law student’s word processing machine as it will provide all the functionality which they will need for their studies, at a price premium due to its rarity and sought after nature and at the cost of being under powered compared to newer computers – lowendmac.com can explain how to work with these older computers.

Personally, I use a budget laptop which I bought online new for a few hundred pounds a bit over a year ago. I agree that looks are important so I chose one which was powerful for the money but still pretty timeless in style. It’s black and grey and it’s a little over an inch thin when closed, thin and black will never be unacceptable in a laptop. It uses an older, single core Pentium M processor which does not provide the same power as the newer models (but cut around £100 off the price when I bought it) but I have hooked up an extended life battery and I get around 6 hours away from a plug, which covers me perfectly while I’m out of the house. I back up my files to a flash drive which also means I can use them on the campus systems – useful for centralised printing. The combination means that my work is secure enough to protect it from accidents like drive failure or, in the worst case, the theft of my laptop.

My very functional HP 510 (pdf) gets well looked after and will continue to serve me as a portable typing, emailing and browsing machine well after university, it is not a speed demon but the combination of low cost, highly clocked processor and long battery life means that I consider it to be one of the best purchases I have made in a long time. For people who want more power from a laptop, there are pricier options but my lower end option works extremely well for me as a typing and researching machine.  All the posts on this site are typed on this machine.

Finally, if you are not a very technical person I suggest the first thing you do is find a techie friend at your university, my first love was computing so that shows it’s even possible to find one within your course, who can talk you through what can be pretty complicated configuration for campus networks etc which will save headaches in the future.

“How hard is law school?”

As degrees go law is generally rated to be on par or slightly below medicine as far as the degree difficulty goes (if it’s any consolation these are reportedly also the most highly paid afterwards). It’s not an easy degree by an means, accredited law schools operate on a syllabus set out by the controlling professional bodies which keeps the level of graduates high in what is a field that relies a lot on the prestige of its members. Law is a definite increase on top of university acceptance qualifications and will very probably be hard enough to get in the way of compiling a proper student record of hard partying.

You will have to sometimes refuse to go out to get work done at university, there’s just no other way but my friends in other subjects have not had the problem of workload to the same extent that myself and my law friends have, so the consensus is that there is more to the course to cover. You’ll probably find it to be a very quick course trying to cover a great deal of information very quickly, the Scottish LLB (my course) tries to have a lot of students ready to study law further in two years while third year and honours provide an opportunity to broaden skills and cement them.  The specifics of the degree will differ depending on the law school you decide to go to but the standard form in Scotland is a four year degree (three years to Ordinary/Pass level and an additional year of honours, sometimes two years for the pass degree to give more time) this is then followed by a number of post graduate options which take between 1 and 3 years depending on what you want to be able to practice after your degree.  Graduate students can opt for a very quick degree which lasts 2 years.

So the pacing may take you by surprise – I was stunned when, on my first day, in my first lecture of higher education I was handed an assignment that would count towards my future employability. Law believes in learn by doing in a huge way. There’s really no messing about as a law student.

It’s not all bad – the course is supposed to stretch and it’s a really good challenge. It just won’t be as easy to maintain the sort of records of going out that people in other degree courses manage to do. You will hear people from the business school boasting about their 17-18 hour stints at the students union and your first thought will honestly be how they find the time. Many students on my law course have survived without becoming a studious recluse, myself included, and it will not stop you enjoying university as much as anyone else. Just consider that a lot of your academic success will be from a knack of pulling off coursework and exams which the markers like – like all English based subject law is also very subjective with the learned principles you have given providing a guide to your own style – your ability to compose, frankly, arty answers to questions is what will propel you though.

So, how hard is law school? Enough to be getting on with and you should consider if you feel up to the work before you start and always remember that in Scotland you are allowed a “false start” without losing your free education, so if you find it horrible after the first year be aware that there are options to get you away from it. Don’t believe the horror stories though – there’s no “book of laws” to memorise for the exam at the end of the year, it’ll resemble high school English and Modern Studies a lot more than the profession is probably happy with.