Law Student Computer Buying Tips: 2. What Size Laptop Should I buy?

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This is the second in a series of tips for new law students wondering what computer to buy for law school:

Size can relate to many things, such as the size and weight of the laptop, screen size, memory, and hard drive space.

Size and weight of the laptop and screen size.
Since you will be carrying your laptop, the smaller the better. But since you may be using the laptop a lot, the bigger the screen the better. Obviously, you can’t have a small laptop and large screen, which means you will need to determine which matters more to you, or find a middle point.

I suggest a 14 to 15 inch screen because it is big enough for word processing but still can be fairly light and small—try different sized screens in a store to decide which you prefer. Once you decide on the screen size, you will need to decide the physical size of the laptop: the lighter and thinner the laptop, the better—but you will also pay more for a lighter and thinner computer.

My advice is don’t worry too much about physical size because one additional pound won’t be very noticeable in your backpack, so it isn’t worth an additional $300-400.

How much RAM to have depends on whether you intend to have many applications open at once (such as a music player, Outlook, Word, OneNote, and PowerPoint) or do video editing or 3D gaming. Most computers come with 512 megabytes of RAM. Having more RAM, such as one gigabyte of RAM, will noticeably increase the speed while using your computer, especially when you have many applications open at once.

My advice is to get a minimum of 512 megabytes, but 1 gigabyte is best.

Hard drive space.
A 20 gigabyte hard drive is large enough to hold all your law school documents. However, most students enjoy having music, and possibly videos on their computer. It takes about 4 gigabytes for 1,000 songs. Video uses much more space. So most students will want a hard drive with 60 gigabytes.

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6 Responses to “Law Student Computer Buying Tips: 2. What Size Laptop Should I buy?”

  1. David Sawyer Says:

    Good points. I would add that you should avoid the temptation of buying a Mac. At Cumberland, the exam software is Windows-only. And most bar exam software is similarly incompatible with Mac.

    Also, I know several students that did well never owning a laptop. Most libraries have laptops to check out and use while on campus, and there’s always the computer lab. When our school finally got wireless internet in the classroom, having a laptop was more of a distraction. Notepads are less fancy, but I think they make you concentrate more.

    But if you’re like me and your handwriting is atrocious, you’ll probably want to take notes and write your exams on a laptop.

  2. JP Says:

    I wouldn’t be so categorical about recommending Windows machines over Macs. While it would certainly behoove you to check how well your chosen law school supports Macs before going out and buying one, it’s not all that uncommon for a school to support both platforms equally. There are several exam software packages with versions for both Macs and Windows, and some schools are even allowing Mac users to take exams using Boot Camp to run otherwise Windows-only exam software. has, among other things, a good discussion of the current state of exam software for Macs.

    Obviously, if your school doesn’t support Macs at all, and won’t allow you to use Boot Camp to take exams, you might want to reconsider buying a Mac.

    Personally, I’ve used both operating systems enough to know that I unequivocally prefer Macs. Thus, even if my school did not support Macs, I would still seriously consider getting a Mac, simply because I balk at the idea of using daily an OS that makes me angry. After all, why inject another irritant into the already stressful law school experience, when I could probably borrow a Windows machine from someone for exam days anyways?

  3. CPM Says:

    Just a thought: if you can deal with smaller laptops for class and library work, they can be connected to virtually any size external monitor or LCD television at home. When you need several applications or multiple windows open simultaneously, this solution increases your productivity significantly! The expense can be minimal: Ebay always has used or refurbished monitors – and they can be purchased new from places like K-mart or Walmart for relatively little.

  4. » Law School Guide - Law School 1L, 2L, and 3L Says:

    [...] Law Student Computer Buying Tips: 2. What Size Laptop Should I buy? [...]

  5. keller Says:

    I have a pocket PC that I have used recently for notetaking (with a bluetooth keyboard). It’s wireless-capable and has a great battery life, size, etc. How about that? Will I regret not having a laptop-proper? I’ve got one at home but it weighs 9 lbs and sounds like a jet engine.

  6. 2L Says:

    Great question. If you merely want to take notes, such as in college, maybe your pocket PC would work. However, in law school, you will want to be able to have multiple files open at once. During class, you will be switching between your notes, your case briefs, the online dictionary, your outline, etc. Having a laptop that you can use in class and take with you for legal research in the law library will probably make law school life much easier and may also improve your grades by saving you time and improving your organization of information.

    In short, you are making a big investment in yourself by attending law school. The cost of a laptop is a small price to pay for a valuable tool that will improve your law school success.

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