Many law professors have started noticing that computers may not be helping law students (as evidenced by the amount of Internet surfing, shopping, and chatting going on in class). In response to this, some professors have banned the laptop from their classrooms. This frustrates many students who are used to or were already planning on taking class notes on a computer.
But taking notes by hand may not be a bad thing.
Handwriting notes prevents you from transcribing your professor’s lecture.
I typed my class notes during law school, and for the entire first year my note taking consisted of trying to write down everything that the professor (or another student) said. And this was a terrible approach, because when it came time to outline the subject, it was just like reading a transcript of the lecture. It took forever! My notes didn’t really help me identify the important takeaway from class. (Check out our post on what to include in your class notes.)
I wish I had reviewed a graphic on note taking such as this. With a bit more organization and thought my notes would have been shorter and easier to review. And that would have helped with my understanding of the material and made it easier to outline when it came time for that. Also, it would have allowed me to be more engaged in class—instead of frantically typing and trying to write down every word being said by the professor.
You don’t have to give up your computer!
I know we are addicted to our laptops (yours truly included) and just because you handwrite your notes, that doesn’t mean that you are giving up your laptop!
Many students find it helpful to brief or take reading notes on the computer and then print them out to bring to class. That way, students can write notes directly on the brief (which in turn cuts down on duplicate note taking of information that may already be in your brief).
You can also use your laptop to make your outlines. However, some students find that handwriting outlines can be a great study tool (here is a post from our sister site, the Bar Exam Toolbox on how handwriting outlines can help you study for the bar exam).
What tools do we recommend to stay organized?
Sometimes students ask us for recommendations on staying organized while handwriting your notes in law school. You will likely have your notes, handouts from professors, and printed briefs. That is a lot of paper! You want to make sure that you keep everything organized. Some students like to put together one binder for each class so they can add materials as they collect them. We also think that notebooks such as Circa Notebooks can be great for law school because you can easily reorganize the pages. Have any organization tips? Share them in the comments.
Even if you can use a laptop, consider handwriting your notes anyway!
Some students find the temptation of the computer too much during class—it is too easy to get distracted. And students may find handwriting notes to be a more effective way to retain what they are learning in their classes.
You won’t know until you try!
If you are new to law school (or even if you are in your second or third year), you should try out some different note taking techniques to see which works best for you. You may be surprised about what helps you retain and understand the most information.
Have any thoughts on handwriting versus typing class notes? Share them in the comments.
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Also, check out these other helpful posts!
- What should go into your law school class notes? There are five critical things to include.
- When you’re sitting in class, it’s critical to think through the areas of ambiguity that may make an appearance on a later exam. Here’s one technique for keeping track of everything.
- Going through orientation? Check out Lee’s reflections on her 1L orientation experience.
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