While legal education has lagged behind some other disciplines in terms of embracing distance learning, there are fully online law schools that allow students to earn a Juris Doctor. There are also online options for those who want advanced legal training but don't intend to become lawyers.
Online law school offers many benefits, including lower costs and greater flexibility to juggle work and family obligations. At the same time, online programs require a somewhat different level of discipline than on-campus programs. Students must complete coursework and prepare for tests without the structure of attending class in person.
There are numerous technology tools available that help online law students stay organized and be successful, from calendars and cloud storage to project management and collaboration software. Such tools are helpful to students at campus-based law schools as well, especially as they figure out how to manage online learning in light of the pandemic.
This article looks at some of the applications and services that can benefit online law students. Many schools (Concord Law School included) provide students with access to a productivity suite such as Google G Suite, so it’s important to look for tools that work well with the school's platform.
When adopting any technology, read the tool’s privacy policies and evaluate its security and privacy features to minimize the risk of identity theft and other concerns. You may wish to perform a Google search for “privacy and security of ___,” which should reveal any current issues you’ll want to consider.
Electronic Calendars Keep You on Track
An electronic calendar is a basic tool that can help you track classes, assignments, test dates, and more. Productivity suites such as Google G Suite and Microsoft 365 include calendar apps, and, if your classmates are on the same platform, you can share calendars to coordinate study groups and team projects. You can sync these tools with the calendar app on your mobile device, including Google Calendar for Android devices and Apple Calendar for iOS devices.
If you’re looking for something designed specifically for students, consider My Study Life. When you enter your class schedule in this free student planner app, it will automatically populate the calendar. Tasks in the app allow you to track which parts of an assignment you still need to complete, instead of tracking just the assignment itself. The app syncs across your devices and stores your documents in the cloud.
There are also third-party team scheduling tools that link to your online calendar and allow you to schedule meetings without sending emails back and forth. Meetingbird, for example, uses polls to determine the best time for a team to meet. It also allows you to create different types of meetings. You can then sync meetings across multiple calendars and automatically generate a Zoom video conference.
Video Conferencing Enables Face-to-Face Meetings
Speaking of Zoom, you can’t beat face-to-face communication for connecting with other students and colleagues. Video conferencing applications allow you to make that connection.
Note that video conferencing is different from video calling. Smartphone video calling apps such as FaceTime for Apple devices and Google Duo for Android simply allow you to make a phone call with a video component. It’s one-on-one. Video conferencing platforms are designed for multiple people and devices.
Zoom is one of the most popular video conferencing tools. Easy to use on any device, it provides high-definition video and audio and allows you to record meetings with automatic searchable transcripts. Video meetings have integrated chat, file sharing, screen sharing, and annotation tools. The free version gives you unlimited one-on-one meetings and group meetings of up to 40 minutes. It’s recommended that you review your Zoom privacy settings to ensure your meeting is secure.
Skype and Google Meet offer alternatives to Zoom. Skype’s free plan enables video conferences of up to 50 people with chat and collaboration tools. Google Meet is available through G Suite, or there’s a free version that supports up to 100 participants and 60 minutes per meeting.
Collaboration Tools Help You Communicate
A collaboration suite may be a better option for groups that need to interact frequently. Collaboration suites provide real-time communication such as instant messaging, voice and video conferencing, and file sharing. You don’t have to log in to separate applications to access these tools, and you can move from text messaging to a voice or video call with a couple of clicks.
Best of all, collaboration suites allow you to follow conversations and track everything related to a particular topic, project, or team without having to search through email. You can also access many third-party apps directly from the collaboration platform’s interface.
The G Suite productivity platform includes collaboration tools that are tightly integrated with other apps. Microsoft 365 goes further with Microsoft Teams, a collaboration suite that makes it easy to organize discussion threads, share files, and automate tasks. One of the most popular collaboration suites is Slack, a platform that organizes conversations, files, and more into channels and provides a comprehensive message archive.
Note-Taking Tools Keep You Organized
Effective note-taking is one of the more critical tools for success in law school. Some apps allow you to take notes on any device and sync them with your other devices. You can include photos of handwritten notes and whiteboards in your notes and, in some cases, even search them.
Evernote provides templates for more effective note-taking, including several designed for students. It allows you to easily capture information you find on the web, store photos of documents, and search documents, PDFs, and scans of handwritten notes. Evernote syncs across multiple devices and provides workspaces for teams.
OneNote is part of Microsoft 365. It offers many of the same features as Evernote plus the ability to flag important notes, sort content, and assign to-dos. You can record audio notes and draw or make annotations with a stylus or your finger.
If you’re not a fast typist, dictation software might be helpful. Dragon Dictation has been around for many years and uses artificial intelligence (AI) for highly accurate speech recognition.
Project Management Coordinates Your Activities
Calendars are great for scheduling events, but project management tools can help you keep tasks and goals on track. They allow you to set milestones and to-do lists for your coursework and projects so that you can meet all of the requirements in the established timeframe. You can also track cases and other resources you want to use. Most tools can be shared among classmates and colleagues for assigning tasks and tracking team projects and study groups.
Trello is an easy-to-use platform that uses a card system for tasks and allows you to add comments, attachments, due dates, and more. The Butler feature allows you to automate many tasks.
Asana uses a shared-space concept for organizing team goals, plans, tasks, files, and more, and allows you to view project information as lists or timelines. Boards focus on specific tasks.
Cloud Storage Provides a Place for Your Files
You probably have plenty of storage space on your laptop or desktop PC, but storing your files in the cloud allows you to access them from any location and device. Cloud storage also provides a convenient way of backing up your files—an essential barrier against those “oops” moments such as device loss or failure. Some solutions automatically upload files to cloud storage and sync them across multiple devices.
One of the best-known cloud storage platforms is Dropbox, which can be accessed from a web browser or an easy-to-use app that works on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android devices. Files can be automatically synced to the cloud, with a version history feature that allows you to roll back to any version you saved in the past 30 days. You can easily share links to documents and preview more than 175 file types without any special software. Dropbox Basic is free and provides 2GB of storage. Dropbox Professional offers 3TB of storage and premium features for a monthly fee.
One of the things that sets Google Drive apart is its powerful search capabilities. It offers the same search technology as Google, along with an AI-driven Priority feature that predicts what you’re looking for.
Looking Ahead to Law Practice
Law practices today are increasingly adopting electronic methods and virtual practice. Many of the tools and techniques you leverage in online law school will translate well into the practice environment.
When you’re practicing law, maintaining the security and confidentiality of your clients’ information is paramount. You’ll need to ensure that cloud storage, file-sharing, and collaboration don’t put files and data at risk. You will also need to keep your professional obligations in mind when sharing files and information.
This includes understanding the risks of metadata in electronic documents, which can reveal who edited the document, changes that were made, and privileged or proprietary information. Lawyers also need to know how to properly redact PDFs so that the redacted text cannot be accessed by a simple copy and paste.
Technology can be a boon for both online law students and lawyers. Evaluate tools carefully, use them properly, and enjoy the productivity and collaboration benefits.
Go to Law School Online With Concord Law
Concord Law School at Purdue University Global is the nation's first fully online law school and is one of the first online law schools to earn accreditation by the State Bar of California.† We offer two online law degree programs:
- The Juris Doctor for those who wish to become an attorney licensed in California
- The Executive Juris Doctor for those who wish to develop legal expertise but do not intend on becoming a practicing attorney.‡
We also offer a number of online single law classes to help sharpen your skills and address legal issues in your industry. These single classes include Cyber Law, Cybersecurity Law, and Virtual Law Practice.
Request more information today.