A Technology Plan for Students in the Legal Industry

Today's guest author is one of my former students in the paralegal program at Georgetown University. Matt Hersey works as a Program Officer, Legal Advocate Specialist, in the Rule of Law department for an international labor union organization called Solidarity Center. He sends out time analyzing labor laws and cases, and he says he is “so much faster at researching and writing” after completing the paralegal program. He also enjoys helping his co-workers with various tech issues.

I recently received this email from Matt:

Amy,

Thanks again for all of your help. You really are an amazing teacher and you really were the best of what I hoped for from this program.

I wrote down some ideas regarding how I used technology to get through this program. It will probably stay current for a year or two.

Please share it if you think this is something the new students would like.

Attached to Matt's email was an MS Word file. I was blown away and I think you will be too! First, how cool is it that he documented the process he came up with and second, what a “good human” to share it with others. Instead of only sharing Matt's document with my new students, I asked Matt if I could share it here instead. I think his advice could be useful to anyone who is attending school.

But before I share Matt's hard work with you, I feel the need to share a story about him first, so you can get to know him a little. Matt was a joy to have in my class. He has a wonderful sense of humor and he shared some interesting examples during class from his exposure to global technology solutions related to the organization he works for.

One of the first assignments I give to my students each semester is something teachers refer to as “an ice breaker exercise”. I set up a “graded discussion thread” in the Canvas LMS I use.

Here are the instructions I provide to the students:

Let's get to know each other. Participation will be worth 2 points of extra credit.

Each student in the class will post three (3) statements about yourself. Two (2) of the statements should be true and one (1) of the statements should be false.

The rest of the class will try to guess which one of your statements is false.

Example:
My hair was down to my waist in high school.
I talked to Cher in an airport coffee shop.
I speak 4 languages.

Here is Matt's extra credit submission:

I have come to work in a full gorilla costume. (They loved it)

I have fought with Greg Louganis while wearing a full chicken costume. (I won)

I have given a class lecture while wearing a full Sponge Bob Square Pants costume. (Best class ever)

Needless to say, I thought Matt's submission was hilarious and it definitely got me curious about which one was false. Over the next few weeks, I kept reminding the students to submit their extra credit assignment and to submit their guesses about their classmates' statements so that we could eventually reveal all of the false statements.

Here is Matt's big reveal and explanation:

Number two is incorrect; but just barely. I was wearing a chicken suit for a college student Halloween “Prom party.” A guy across the street was wearing just a speedo and was built like a diver. He called me across the street for a hi-five. When I hi-fived him in the middle of the street, he put me in a headlock and ripped off my chicken head. I got the chicken head back and shouted into his buddy's video camera – don't mess with the chicken.

Do you think I am ever going to forget Matt Hersey? Last week, I gave this same assignment to my new semester of students and I told them about a previous student in a chicken costume.

Okay, below is Matt's contribution. Thanks Matt!

How I Made It Through (by Matt Hersey)

I am a father of a 4 year old and I have a full time job. I got great grades and I only went a little crazy.

How did I do it?  Technology.

1. NOTES

Use your Laptop to take notes and save the files to Dropbox (or Google Drive).

Folder Structure

Your folder structure should look something like this:

screenshot1   screenshot2   screenshot3   screenshot4

Typing on a laptop let’s you print all of your notes easily at the end of the semester for exam study. I tried taking handwritten notes, but classes are so much better when you can use the internet to look up a legal term or a case that the professor mentions off-hand and you have no idea about. Also, sometimes those long confusing discussions we all hate can be cut short with actual facts from the interwebs. It is nice to type because then you can share notes with classmates.

If you take the time to set up and use the heading and sub-heading features in Word (like I have done here) your notes end up looking great. And you can create a functioning Table of Contents with page numbers for all of your notes (this was amazing for my “open book-open notes” International law exam.)

Use Evernote Premium

I only figured this out my last semester. Evernote is great for saving interesting articles and PDF docs (like the cases you will be tested on).

Set up a folder in Evernote for each class. Almost every important case has a case brief on the internet somewhere. Find the cases mentioned by your professors and save the brief to your course folder in Evernote.

I also used Evernote a lot for typing paper outlines and quick notes to myself about assignments. It is great for typing things while waiting for the metro or just as you are falling asleep.

The Premium version also lets you take photos from your iPhone which are converted to PDF. Why would you want to do this?

1) Notes, professors write on the whiteboards and now you can just take a photo of their complicated org chart or the paper copy of the assignment instructions that you are sure to misplace.
2) Textbooks, in studying for my Corporate law final, I went through the book and took a photo of the chapter summaries and diagrams. Then, I could just use Evernote to print just those pages so I didn’t get distracted flipping through the entire book. OCR makes the photos searchable.
3) Library research, those awful days in the library can be made a little easier if you take a photo in Evernote of the page in the book you have just found rather than having to go back to your laptop every single time with the book in tow.
4) Life is just better with Evernote — if you can make the mental shift to actually use it.

2. CALENDARING

Take the time the first week in the semester to create a spreadsheet of your assignments and update the file every class.

Each week, you can hide the rows so that you don’t have to waste time scrolling down to the proper week. It is important that you install Sheets (or Excel) on your iPhone so that you are able to review this spreadsheet from your iPhone. The paralegal program will fry out your ability to retain key information like the day of the week and what assignment is due tomorrow.

Keeping this calendar current and in a format that you always have with you is incredible. In my second semester, I shared my calendar with my entire class through our Georgetown Google account. They loved it.

Here is a copy of what mine looked like in Google Sheets:

screenshot5

3. EXTRA INFORMATION

The Internet

There are so many resources online for law students. My bookmark folder for this paralegal program easily has 100 favorites saved. You will not remember where you read something unless you save it to your Bookmarks and then periodically check your Bookmarks to remember what you have saved.

Online Books

For the most part the exams are based on the textbooks and textbooks are a lot of vocabulary. It is worth checking if the textbook has a corresponding electronic study guide on www.Cengagebrain.com. If they do, buy it. The chapter quizzes are great for seeing what you don’t know and online version of the books can be text searched for when the professor mentions terms and you have no idea what they are talking about.

Study Guides

Buy the cheap Quickstudy legal guides from Amazon. These laminated guides will not substitute for reading, but they do provide an overall conceptual framework (something that books are not great at doing) for you to look at and check that you know all the parts of that area of law.

Quimbee

Quimbee is a subscription service website for law students. It costs $240 per year. The reason you should buy it is that it has hundreds of cute little videos (and case briefs that you can save to Evernote!) that explain the law. The videos are divided up by subject area and after you watch each video you can take a short quiz. After 5 or 10 videos it also gives you a 20 question final exam. This really became the primary way that I used to understand the law; the textbooks were so much easier to read after I had watched the videos. You can also save PDF transcripts of each video which are fantastic for exam prep.

4. CONCLUSION

I know that this is a lot. If you are not used to cloud technology this will be a big learning curve. But the payoff is great and not just for school, but for life.

Finally, the best time to start an assignment is the day after the professor gives the explanation. At least get the outline done (on Evernote) and write down anything you remember the professor saying before you forget. I wasted so much time going back through my notes trying to remember want I was supposed to do until I finally realized it was just better to start the assignment immediately than to put off starting it even a few days.

 

2 Comments

  1. This is awesome! I wish I had seen this before I did the program. Ha. Please tell Matt this is very helpful!

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