Should I bother getting a smartphone for law school?
April 20, 2009 12:41 PM   Subscribe

How beneficial would getting a PDA/smartphone be to a first-year law student?

I'm starting law school in the fall. Right now, I have a basic cell phone that I just use for phone calls and text messages, no data plan, nor does it have the features for one. My contract is up for renewal (with T-Mobile, and I prefer to stay with them). I'm considering getting a smartphone of some sort so I can utilize the organizer features, as well as email and internet access on-the-go. I've been looking at Blackberry models mostly (not looking for suggestions of specific phones just yet, just wondering whether I should consider this type).
From what I hear from current law students, you do a lot of email contact with classmates, and those you work with, especially in 2L and 3L. I'm terrible at keeping a paper organizer, as well, and feel that the ability to keep my tasks right on my phone would be useful for me. Also, I'm pretty good at getting lost while driving and being able to look up directions whenever I need to would be handy.
However, being a student with limited finances, I know that I won't just have extra money to throw around on needless expenses. Would the benefits of having a PDA/smartphone in law school be worthwhile? Also, for those who are currently, or have recently been in law school, are these types of phones very common among students, or do most people not bother?
posted by ishotjr to Technology (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm a 3rd year law student; just upgraded from my basic phone to an iphone about a month ago. Personally, I don't think having a smartphone will benefit you as a law student any more than it does right now. You're right in that a lot of communication is via email. I'm actually sitting in a class right now, and in a class of 90, I see 2 people without laptops open in front of them. Considering the amount of time you'll probably be in front of your laptop, offline email access isn't that much of a boon. And a lot of social stuff (what bar we're going to, etc) still happens via phone calls or sms.

The location/mapping stuff is helpful, but not any more helpful to a law student than to anybody else. Having a calendar on your phone is helpful, but you can do it other ways, and you can do it with paper too. Helpful, but not earth-shattering.

I really like my phone for traveling and knowing where I can find a bar or a restaurant or how high local rivers are running (I whitewater kayak). I use it to reply to emails on the road, but its pretty rare that its something that it's important for me not to miss.

Regarding your last question, I'd say maybe 20 to 30% of my classmates have smartphones, and just about everybody else has a cell phone. I personally don't know of anyone with a land line.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:48 PM on April 20, 2009

Much more important to have a laptop you like and can carry around. A lot of my classmates have smartphones, but it's not because of any special need. They get used to them during their summer jobs, and they have some disposable income, so they pick 'em up.
posted by grobstein at 12:52 PM on April 20, 2009

Yeah, even if you get a smartphone for work, its generally a good idea not to use it for personal use. Also, if you're working for a big firm and they expect you to have a blackberry, you'll get one from them.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:09 PM on April 20, 2009

I had a smart phone (Treo) before starting law school, and no, it doesn't especially help.

However, before I did get the phone, I spent a lot of time deliberating whether to upgrade from my previous "dumb" phone or not. When I eventually did, I was pissed that I didn't do it sooner, as the benefits are so great. I can't tell you how may times I'm in the grocery story, thinking of upcoming meals, and I'll look up recipes to make sure I have everything I'll need, or how many times I'm out on a dinner date and we decide to see a late movie, and bam, movie listings from every theater around. Driving directions, Google searches, it makes life more efficient, flexible, easier.

So, special need for law school? No. Special need for life? Yes.
posted by ochenk at 1:22 PM on April 20, 2009

I cant speak as to whether or not it would help you out with law school. But the T-Mobile G1 is fantastic.
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:53 PM on April 20, 2009

No one actually "needs" the latest newfangled gadgets to help them through school. Some students I've seen in law school have been incredibly distracted by their laptops/PDA/gizmos during class. I'm pretty sure smart people like Obama didn't bat an eye going through their higher educations without a lot of technology crutches while in the learning phase.

While you're in work juggling three big cases and accepting work from other partners to get ahead in your firm? Then yeah, every bit helps.

I'd agree with grobstein that a good laptop for taking notes, outlining, and writing papers/responses/law review is the best bang for your buck at that level.
posted by Ky at 3:04 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Really it's not necessary, for several reasons.

First, you're going to most likely have your laptop with you at all times and you'll be using it for everything, so for emails or planning you've got plenty or organizational tools available.

Second, many firms now actually provide you with a company blackberry when you start working with them. Depending on where you want to work, there's always a chance you'll be getting a newer model from work the summer after your second year. Only then will you really need it so that the law firms can haunt you at every moment of every day. Before you know it, you'll be wishing blackberries didn't exist.

Finally, while a lot of people do have smartphones, people really just use them for social purposes. When you're writing long-ish emails all the time it's really not practical, and just purely for social convenience.

Then again, they're totally cool. Either way, good luck at law school!
posted by Grimble at 3:26 PM on April 20, 2009

Response by poster: Cool. Thanks for the advice. Of course I know that I don't "need" a smartphone, of course the argument that people like Obama doesn't really work in this situation because that was years ago. He didn't have a laptop either, but you pretty much have to have a laptop in 2009 in law school.
Basically, I'm asking if people have seen utility from smartphones in the context of law school, and it seems that the answer is that smartphones are handy daily life tools, but not necessarily for law school specifically.

I asked because I noticed that a lot of people at the admitted students event I attended had smartphones. Maybe it's because a lot of them were former business students (I was in liberal arts, hence the crappy phone ;-) ).
posted by ishotjr at 4:15 PM on April 20, 2009

yeah, totally agree that a smartphone is specifically less useful in law school because you always have your laptop. I just got the iphone, but I don't think it would have been as wonderful in law school, because there's not much you can do on a smartphone that you can't do better on a laptop, if you're sitting in front of one already.
posted by mercredi at 7:49 PM on April 20, 2009

I graduated LS a few years ago and lived without one. Your law school will probably provide outlook or some sort of other scheduling software. And, if expenses are an issue and you are taking out loans, keep in mind that you are buying a fancy pda on borrowed money that will be paid back over many years with interest.
posted by slateyness at 8:04 PM on April 20, 2009

The important thing, as some others have said, is to make sure you get a laptop you'll be happy with. Since you don't sound like the sort of person who would take notes by hand in law school (an extremely tiny minority to begin with), that means you'll be lugging your laptop everywhere. Which means you almost certainly want to get something that is light.

Also, before you run off and buy a Mac, make sure your school doesn't require that you use a PC to take exams. (Some schools use special software like ExamSoft, which may not be supported on Macs.) If you don't have the proper hardware come exam time, you will either have to borrow (good luck!) or rent a laptop, or write your exams by hand. You don't want to wind up in that situation (as nice as it is to have a Mac).
posted by DavidNYC at 11:58 PM on April 21, 2009

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