Law School Recommendations #2 – Living, Contacts and Technology


[Edit: the first part of these posts is located here.] Before coming to Davis, I met with a recent graduate of the program who had similar circumstances. Like me, he went to law school bringing along his family (wife and two kids in his case). He gave me a lot of advice. The most important was on where to rent.

Davis is functionally an affluent suburb of Sacramento. The cost of real estate in Davis is far higher than it is for similar communities just a few miles away. My friend decided to rent in West Sacramento, where he got a house for about 2/3 the cost of renting one in Davis — he saved $600 a month. His most urgent advice to me was to bite the bullet, pay the higher rent and live in Davis. Davis is a safe community; West Sac has substantial crime. Davis has good schools; West Sac does not. Neighbors in Davis, if they are not students or faculty, tend to be engineers, attorneys and doctors, usually with employment in Sacramento. In Davis, there is a palpable feeling of community. We rented a relatively inexpensive house in South Davis for my family of six and we are very happy with it. (Ask, and I will show you photos of our new deck, hand-built by volunteer neighbors and fellow law students over a summer weekend.)

I am unable to recommend specific apartments or landlords in Davis. I hear some are good and some are bad, but I am not current with the particulars. Law school students are a good source for recommendations, since they will be part of your future community. Be careful, as there are a number of paid “social network salespeople” from the various apartment complexes who give out free advice on Facebook and elsewhere, steering innocent law students to bad locations. Some of them are on the UC Davis Facebook class group pages. Make sure your recommendations come from real, unpaid law students.

As to proximity to the law school, I live three miles from King Hall. It takes me fifteen minutes to bike to classes, which means I get a bit of exercise every day. I wouldn’t want to live further and I don’t need to live any closer. I love it.


How did I find a local UC Davis graduate to talk to? I used which is the online directory of lawyers. You can use it to sort through graduates of any law school near you. I highly recommend searching your local area for recent UC Davis graduates (or whatever school you are interested in) and dropping off a few emails to see if they might have time to talk. You’ll find that lawyers love to talk about themselves and their experiences; they are very likely to set up a half-hour phone call to give you help. I also networked my local area for patent attorneys, since that is my field of interest.


The entire field of law has been somewhat technologically adverse. Chief Justice Roberts is widely quoted as asking during oral arguments in 2010 what the difference might be between a pager and an email. Almost everyone has a story about someone important in the field of law who, while clearly intelligent and well-read, has not come to terms with modern technical society.

King Hall at UC Davis has made herculean efforts to improve their technical services. The classrooms in the new building are all wired to be able to record audio and video. The school provides a fully-functioning interactive website, dubbed SmartSite, to keep track of reading assignments, calendars, resources and the like. Wi-fi is effective and pervasive throughout the school. And the IT staff is friendly, approachable and excellent.

However, few of the faculty make effective use of these facilities. Of over one hundred lectures that I have attended, only one of them was recorded and released for the students to review (it was a Con Law class that had been rescheduled, the online video was for students unable to attend). Virtually none of the textbooks are available as ebooks; the one ebook which was available to first year students last year was so encumbered by DRM as to be virtually unusable. Some professors are able to use SmartSite quite well, while others struggle to post any relevant notices or resources on it. For the most part, students find themselves shuffling paper handouts in class and are happy when information might also be provided digitally on SmartSite.

My first recommendation is to commit all paper records to a digital format and organize them on your laptop. The school provides printers with high-speed scanning capabilities for free. You can scan a twenty page handout quickly and email the resulting PDF directly to your computer for storage. Do this with each and every piece of paper handed out in class, as well as red-ink splattered homework that is returned to you. By digitally preserving your records, you can be sure not to lose anything. This will be invaluable when a professor suddenly announces that students can bring in and use all of her handouts during the final exam, an announcement she makes only two weeks before the test.

All smartphones have cameras. Use them. Did the professor draw an important, complicated chart on the whiteboard, showing you all the different ways that you might get thrown out of Federal Court? Take a picture of it and organize the image with the rest of your notes. You’ll thank yourself later.

What equipment do you need? You need a rugged, reliable laptop computer. You will be happier to have one which is small and light; one which has a long battery life. And, since all tests are taken on your laptop, you want one that is as trustworthy and as unlikely to break down as you can find and afford.

And it should be a Windows computer capable of running the latest update of Win 7 and office suite from Microsoft (both of which are provided free of charge by the law school). The law is a Windows shop. While some software is available on Mac, it is usually not as well-tested or feature-rich as the software for Windows. And, sometimes, it simply doesn’t exist. Everyone who uses it raves about MS One Note for in-class note taking, but it is sadly unavailable on the Mac.

I give this advice despite my long and successful use of Mac computers. In law school, however, I have found myself constantly switching to my Windows XP virtual machine or my Win 7 bootcamp installation for different purposes. For instance, the printers I mentioned which give you high-speed scanning? They also offer hole-punching, stapling and the ability to switch between either one- or two-sided printing — but only for Windows computers. The software for handling those functions is not available for the Mac (don’t worry about scanning, that function is platform independent).

As a law person, this is simply how the universe is organized. Every law firm I have ever visited (including ones that are heavily supported by Apple contracts) is a Windows shop. If nothing else, the software to support hourly billing for law firms is Windows-only.

Does this mean that you, an incoming student who only owns a Mac, should rush out and buy a Windows machine? No. A lot of students use their Mac for law school purposes (including me). It just adds a minor layer of difficulty and, eventually in your law career, you will find that succumbing to Windows is simply easier than constantly fighting it.

With your laptop, by sure to purchase an external hard drive and backup software. Hard disk drives fail with alarming frequency. I use SuperDuper for Mac and rsnyc for Linux to backup my entire hard disk. I use two external hard drives — SuperDuper backs up to one automatically every night and I manually backup with rsync once a week to the other one. Backup frequently and often and religiously.

With either a Windows or Mac laptop, however, you should form a strategy for organization. Create a series of folders for mail and documents, with a hierarchy for each class. Make audio recordings of your lectures. I installed Notebook from Circus Ponies on my Mac. I use it to record my classes (using the laptop’s inbuilt microphone) while I type extensive notes during class. When reviewing my notes later, the audio is tabbed directly to my text so that if I have a question about my notes I can immediately click a tab and hear the professor’s original explanation of the topic, timed to the same instant that I typed the note. This saved me several times during the class year (the use of covenants in Property was one example). A typical semester of audio at high fidelity would come to about 5GB of space on my hard drive.

Please note that you should ask your professor at the beginning of the year for permission to record his or her lectures. I never had anyone turn me down, but typically they will ask that it only be for personal use and not for publication. Also, photographs of whiteboard images, audio recordings and, naturally, typed notes should be freely shared with all of your classmates. Our class shared these through Facebook group updates.


All of you are good students. You would not be coming to law school if you weren’t. Be prepared — you may have been a straight A student all of your life until now, but so have a lot of your future classmates. You will find a lot more competition for grades than you have encountered before. This does not mean that you are any less smart or less deserving of being a lawyer. But be prepared to work for your grades.

I’ve found law school to be far more enjoyable than I ever imagined. The subject matter is interesting, the professors are motivated, the school administration is helpful and approachable. My classmates are universally bright. I’m looking forward to my second year and my eventual graduation into the legal profession.

Remember recommendation #2 from my original post. Use your time this summer to connect with friends and family. Give them your time and attention now, as there will be less of it once school starts in earnest.

Keep a positive attitude, help your classmates, do right for your fellow man. You’ll feel better for it, and so will everyone around you. This advice is not just for law school.

See you next month!


2 Responses to “Law School Recommendations #2 – Living, Contacts and Technology”

  1. […] Steussy Ranch A Movable Feast « Gene Steussy Photographs Law School Recommendations #2 – Living, Contacts and Technology […]

  2. Brother Nic says:

    Do you use ‘Papers’? It is a database of pdf files, similar in sophistication to Quicken. You can mark, note, annotate the pdfs and store them with multiple categories/tags. Only available on the Mac. Almost convinced me to jump ship from Linux (almost).

    Full disclosure – I do not work for these people, but love the software on my iPad.

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