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Finding the right tools for the job

|Written By Jeffrey H. Waugh

This week, Canadian Lawyer 4Students is taking a look at a few technology-related items that might make your hectic law school life a little bit easier to manage.

You don’t have to be a technology wizard to appreciate how the latest gadgets and web applications can help make your life at law school a little bit easier. Whether it’s pulling up the relevant case as the professor starts quizzing the class in true Socratic style, or finding a map to the closest bar after class, technology comes in helpful in getting you out of a jam.


Start out with the best equipment for the job

Laptops
While there might be a lot of debate in the air over internet access in the classroom, one thing is for sure: laptops are a valuable way of taking and organizing your lecture notes. Some people still use the pen-and-paper technique, but with more and more professors sending out presentations before lectures, laptop usage is becoming increasingly common.

Students say you should keep two key factors in mind when you’re hunting for the right choice: overall weight and battery life.

You’re going to be carrying this thing around every day, so something you can easily throw in your bag will keep the chiropractor visits to a minimum. And while many rooms are being upgraded to provide power sources, getting stuck with a flashing battery indicator when there’s another hour of class left is never enjoyable —  especially when you’ve left your pen and paper at home.

Smart phones
Some people would question whether having a BlackBerry or iPhone is really necessary, or if it’s just in keeping with the latest trends. But they can come in handy for a student.

Popular uses include the GPS function to find your interview location, and catching up on the news during your commute to school. If you’re trying to decide between the BlackBerry and the iPhone, keep in mind that the latter tends to be seen more as a trendy item to have, while the BlackBerry gives off more of a professional vibe. Do your research and really take the time to think about what functions you’ll be making the most use of.

Word on the street is that if you plan on using your device mainly for e-mail, the BlackBerry keyboard tends to be the faster and easier way of inputting text.

Keep in mind that many large firms provide BlackBerrys to their articling students, or at least to first-year associates. While it’s not a reason to avoid getting your own, it’s something you might want to keep in mind when trying to decide on the length of contract terms.


Point your browser in the right direction

CanLII
If you need to find a piece of legislation, this is the place to look. A well-organized index provides easy access to both provincial and federal statutes and regulations, a variety of cases, and even decisions handed down by boards and tribunals. The search feature makes it easy to find the relevant sections you’re looking for.
The site is also the repository for most up-to-date postings of rulings from all levels of courts from across Canada.

Operated by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, the site is constantly being updated and improved upon. A recent study conducted by the group showed that it is the most frequently accessed electronic legal resource in the country. And best of all — it’s completely free.

The Court
If you’re looking for a top-notch review of the latest decision handed down by the Supreme Court of Canada, this site is an excellent place to start. The service is run by Osgoode Hall Law School; contributions are made primarily by students, working under the supervision of a faculty supervisor.

You’ll find commentary on a wide range of cases, and posts tend be uploaded fairly quickly after the decisions are handed down. Readers also have the opportunity to make their own comments, giving the site an interactive, blog-like feel that brings out a wide range of perspectives on the issues.

LinkedIn
The days of Facebook certainly haven’t passed us by, but let’s admit it, the possibility of friends posting pictures that you don’t have any control over makes its use as a marketing tool a bit concerning. LinkedIn offers an alternative. The site is quickly gaining popularity, and is specifically aimed at the professional market through making business contacts and marketing yourself in an online forum.

Stick with Facebook for your friends and family (with your privacy options set to the max), but go with the more professional route when you’re trying to show firms what you have to offer.


Add a few tools to tie it all together

Google Notebook
This is a great tool for helping compile all of your reference materials as you work on the next big paper. You can organize everything in a variety of different ways, post links, add your own notes — pretty much like a real notebook. The best part though is the accessibility. You can pull up your notebook from any computer, whether you’re using your own laptop at Starbucks or spending a late night in the library computer lab.

Google Reader
Another tool in the Google suite of products, Google reader is an excellent RSS aggregator. Subscribe to your favourite feeds and quickly get the headlines to see what’s important to you. Organizing by subject will make it that much faster to find what you’re looking for. Here’s a tip: most law firm sites have an RSS feed for their news options. Add your potential firms to your reader account so you’re always in the loop.

Remember The Milk
The days of to-do lists on sticky notes are over. Not only will this site keep track of your pending tasks, it’ll also show you the best way to get them all done. If you have a few things on the go — for example, picking up groceries, dropping off your dry cleaning, and taking your job applications to the post office — this site will map out the different activities so you can plan your route accordingly. It can be quite the time saver, and you’ll be sure to get everything done.

Make it even better by using the add-on options for your BlackBerry or iPhone, and you’ll never have to worry about forgetting to grab the list off your fridge before heading out. You can also take advantage of free text message reminders, so you can take that string off from around your finger.


[span style="color: #990000;"]Do you have a favourite web resource or technology tool? Share it with others by sending it to jwaugh@clbmedia.ca —

Canadian Lawyer 4Students[/span] will post some of the most popular suggestions to help everyone stay on track.

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