• Nicholas Plummer

The Paperless Law Student


Better technologies are driving a big push for law firms and courts to become paperless, and are also changing the way universities are teaching, with more content being offered online.

In this digital age, can a paperless study system really work for law subjects?

Ultimately, I’m going to say no. Well, not paperless in its purest form. There are, however, many benefits to becoming a digital law student.

If you’re planning on going paperless, here are some things to consider…

1. The Tools

Obviously, to go paperless you’re going to need a computer. A notebook will be best as it will give you the flexibility to take it with you to lectures and seminars to take your notes on.

A tablet device is also handy if you’re thinking about ditching paper, as reading material on it will be easier than on a laptop. Paired with a Bluetooth keyboard, a tablet will also make for a more portable note-taking device and can in many circumstances replace the need for a laptop.

Another essential tool for the paperless law student is a cloud storage service. There are plenty to choose from, most with free storage that will more than meet your needs. Try DropBox, One Drive, Box and Google Drive. Look for the option that will sync best with your devices and the program(s) you use for note taking.

2. Your Resources

More and more of the reference material you will require for your subjects is accessible in electronic format.

Austlii, CaseBase, WestLaw and the like will have you covered for your legislation, cases and commentaries. These and many more resources will be accessible through your university library website. They can take some getting used to in terms of working out how to effectively search, but once you’ve mastered it, they will provide you with a wealth of information.

Being able to save articles and cases in either PDF or RTF form gives you the ability to build your own library to revisit throughout the course.

Many legal textbooks are now offered in e-book format. The e-books provide many advantages with searching, book marking and highlighting. However, many e-book files can’t be printed from.

3. Your Notes

Programs such as Microsoft’s OneNote or Evernote make it easy to take notes on your laptop, tablet or phone. These applications give you the ability to copy and paste photos or graphics from the web or a camera, which is great for taking a photo of your tutor’s notes on the whiteboard, etc. You can also record and imbed audio.

My personal preference is OneNote but you need to use the program that feels most comfortable to you. You’ll be spending a lot of time using it.

Having your notes in a digital form allows you to synchronise them across devices and go multi-screen while you study. Having your notes in your pocket is handy for when you come up with ideas for an approach for a paper or when you finally understand the doctrine of equitable estoppel.

Having your resources and notes on a tablet beside you while you type on your laptop is a great way to save paper and time.

4. The Exam

The Achilles heel for the paperless law subject!

Law exams are open book but most, if not all, universities will not allow the use of electronic devices during an exam.

This is not a problem for your notes, journal articles, commentaries, cases and the like, which can all be printed out as required or even inserted into your notes, although it does kind of defeat the idea of a paperless subject.

If you are going to rely heavily on a textbook in the exam, then you may be better off buying the hard copy version. E-book versions are a similar price to their printed versions, so buying both is often not a feasible option for students.

Many universities will also not allow library books into the exam so borrowing the book for the exam probably isn’t an option either.

Despite the exam being an electronic free zone, there are still plenty of benefits to tackling your subjects with as little paper as possible.

Besides saving the environment and all those photocopying fees, it will get you into the habit of using electronic documents efficiently. It is where the profession is headed and law graduates will be expected to be familiar with handling documents in an electronic form.

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