Back to School: The (Almost) Definitive Guide to Android Tech for Law Students

Back to SchoolAhh, fall semester. I’m almost reminiscent of those dreadful hours leading up to the first day of law school. 1Ls are full of excitement and angst, while the rest of the student body is totally engrossed with boredom. Some students have recognized the reality of the law school scam, while others remain glassy-eyed as to their ability to “do good.”

I’ve posted a couple of times about law school, apps, and mobile, and I’ll probably continue to write the obligatory beginning-of-the-semester post. And actually, truthfully, this is probably a rehash of more of the same.

The tech for back to school

I actually loved back to school time, because it was an excuse for me to tell Mrs. The Droid Lawyer that I really needed some fancy new tech, and actually have a moderately good excuse for buying it. Now, I just buy the tech and worry about the consequences later. Or, just lie and say, “it’s for you,” then never really give it to her.

Chromebook and Nexus 7 (2013)

Unless you want to be a “law school tool,” you don’t need a Macbook Pro. It’s just over-priced tech. Get yourself a Chromebook. At less than $250, a Chromebook will do everything you need it do for law school.

If you’re not so keen on a Chromebook, or maybe you already have your laptop du jour, and you want a tablet. Right now, the best tablet on the market is Nexus 7 (2013).

Nexus 7 Product Info

There’s a 16 GB and 32 GB version. Get the 32 GB version, which will set you back $287.60. This 7 inch tablet runs Android 4.3, has the most pixel per inch for any tablet on the market, and is well worth your purchase.

While the Nexus 7 is great, I think every aspiring and practicing lawyer needs a 10 inch tablet. That’s why you should purchase a Nexus 10, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.2, or an ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity.

The Nexus 10 is Google’s tablet, running Android 4.3 and some of the best specs for 10 inch tablets.

Nexus 10 Specs

At $499, the Nexus 10 isn’t cheap. You can opt for the 16 GB version ($399), but what’s $100?

Oh yeah, and don’t forget your Bluetooth keyboard (here’s a good one for the Nexus 10).

Also, grab a portable battery, or two, which will give you some extra juice when you’re low on power and missing a plug. Plus, batteries help make studying much more enjoyable when you’re not chained to the law library.

The Apps

Google Drive, Evernote, and now, Bitcasa, are my go-to favorites for note-taking and keeping. Drive works with any computer, but especially Chromebooks and Android tablets and smartphones. Grab the Drive app from Google Play, or access the program from your browser.

Drive’s a great utility and word processing program, because it allows you to create documents (including your 1st year memo and appellate briefs), presentations, spreadsheets, and store other files. Moreover, unlike Microsoft Office, Drive won’t set you back another 5 years in student loan debt. Drive is free with your Google account.

Drive also integrates with many Android apps, including QuickOffice (which Google owns and integrates with Google Apps), OfficeSuite Pro 7 (which is my favorite), and SmartOffice 2  (which has a great presentation function).

One of the ways I wish I could have improved my law school experience was in my note-taking. I seemed to have an overabundance of disorganized, and therefore useless, notes. This usually came to cause problems just about finals time.

Evernote was just barely coming into its existence as a competitor to Microsoft Office’s OneNote (which is awesome). I’m pretty sure if you talked to 10 attorneys, 8 of them use Evernote. Get to know those 8.

Evernote allows you to sync your notes to their cloud system, and features a traditional word processor-like interface that most people are familiar with. Pretty much the only reason I choose Evernote over OneNote is the length of time Evernote’s been a cloud system. OneNote is a newer cloud entry program, which doesn’t do a really good at cloud backups. Evernote also allows you to break the Microsoft stronghold, so you can actually function without Microsoft Office, if that’s your goal.

Evernote is free, with a paid option to upgrade. The paid option gives you more storage and more notes, and is well worth the cost.

While Westlaw and LexisNexis will be the products pushed during law school, you’d better familiarize yourself with Fastcase (or Casemaker). Many state bar associations offer Fastcase as the alternative to Westlaw and LexisNexis. Obviously, since Fastcase is a separate product, it’s missing the ability to Shepardize or KeyCite cases. That’s okay though, because Fastcase has a new “Bad Bot” that can locate and highlight bad case law. Plus, if you’re desperate to find “good” cases, our county bar library and law school offer access to attorneys.

You’ll need somewhere to store information, and there’s no better place than in the cloud, with Bitcasa. I’m not reliable when it comes to backing up my files, but cloud providers are. Bitcasa offers 10GB of free cloud, or for $99 per year, you can have infinite space. Plus, if you act quickly before the end of August, you can save 20% off your subscription using the promo code DROID20. Or, if you’re really lucky, you can have a year for free.

If you want to hand write your notes, then check out Papyrus or Quill. Both apps function much like paper, capturing your notes in your handwriting, and give you the ability to draw and diagram information. I’ve used both programs quite extensively, and haven’t found a true winner, though I lean to Papyrus.

If you add a stylus, such as a Wacom Bamboo or JotPro, handwriting feels more like writing than drawing with a finger. I find that I’m able to capture information much easier when I type, so that’s actually still my preferred method of inputting information. Plus, with what can only be termed chicken scratch at times, my penmanship is sometimes hard to decipher – which makes finals time even more of challenging.

And finally, I wish smartphones were smarter when I went to school because I would have been able to save a ton of money on copies using CamScanner. Granted, copies are relatively cheap, but it’s frustrating to pay $5.00 to copy pages from a book to convert them to digital, when scanning software does that for you. CamScanner acts like the copier on your Android device. After scanning the document, you’re free to share the digitized version in an number of ways, including with Evernote. Don’t waste money paying for copies again.

Good Luck

Of course, none of these recommendations matter if your professor’s an old curmudgeon who doesn’t use a computer. Then, you’re facing a long year of redundant and repetitive copying and transcription.

As the semester starts, I wish you each the best of luck. It’s important to get off on the right foot. Of course, you’ll want to check out some of my other posts, such as this one, to see what apps and other tech I’m recommending.

Let's discuss this (you can use Markdown in your comment)

Jeff Taylor

I’m just an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life. I’m also an attorney and I blog about Android for lawyers. You can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Google+.