Before You Buy a Laptop for Law School

Read this before you head to the store.

Johnnie Davis / Getty Images.

In the past several years, a laptop for law school has become less a luxury and more a must-have. In law schools across the country, students are using laptops to do everything from taking notes to studying in the library to taking exams.

Here is list of things you should consider before you buy a laptop for law school:

Law school laptop requirements.

Some law schools have laptop or other computer/software requirements, so the first thing you should do is check those before you buy anything; keep in mind that some law schools still aren't Mac-friendly for taking exams.

For more on Macs in law schools, visit Erik Schmidt's comprehensive resource, Mac Law Students.

Laptops through your law school.

Many schools offer laptops through their own stores, but don’t automatically assume that's where you'll get the best price or the one that's best for your needs; some schools do, though, offer to increase financial aid packages in you purchase through their store. Accordingly, be sure to consider all costs when buying a laptop for law school, and be sure to check the prices in the bookstore. If you don’t purchase your computer through your school, be on the lookout for back to school deals from major retailers like Best Buy. The Apple store also has specials that throw in something extra if you buy a Mac for school.

Weight of the laptop.

If you plan on using your laptop in class, remember you'll be carrying it around every day along with many heavy books.

Try to buy a laptop that is as lightweight as possible for your needs, but as thinner laptops can cost considerably more, be sure to balance cost as well, i.e.

, carrying around an extra half pound may be preferable to spending an extra $500. If you’re not going to invest in an “Ultrabook,” you might want to consider a good and comfortable laptop bag to carry your computer in.

Screen size.

Keeping in mind the weight, also consider that you'll be looking at your laptop a lot over the next three years, so a tiny screen probably isn't to your advantage.

We don’t recommend anything under 13 inches, and anything nearing 17 inches gets heavy and more expensive. Most screens are 1080p nowadays, but something 720p will do. Buying a laptop with touchscreen functionality comes down to personal preference, but really consider whether or not you’d use this feature considering those laptops are usually more expensive.

Try to find a happy middle ground between the size of screen you want and the weight you're willing and able to lug around.

Remember RAM.

Most computers come with at least a gigabyte of RAM, which should be plenty for you during law school. That said, if you can afford to go more than a few gigabytes, your computer will run faster, and you won't have to worry about upgrading the RAM over the next three years.

Hard drive space.

You'll want at least 40GB for law school, but if you also plan on storing music, games, or other entertainment as well, think about going higher. Keep in mind that given the growth of fast online storage options, local storage space has become less of a concern. If you are going to go for a more expensive computer, make the upgrade for weight or RAM rather than hard drive space.

Multi-year warranty or protection plan.

Stuff happens.

Get a warranty or protection plan for your laptop so if something goes wrong during law school, you won't have the added stress of having to pay for repairs. Getting a warranty doesn’t make not getting a case ok!

Extras.

As we mentioned earlier, a laptop case or bag of some sort is a fantastic investment. Don’t forget about the software you need to buy, and don’t buy it without checking with your school's store. You can often get computer software like Microsoft Office at a large discount (or even for free) as a student. Also, consider getting an external hard drive and/or USB drive to backup your work or a subscription to an online storage site like Dropbox ($99/yr for 1TB). If you prefer a physical mouse, you can get a good wireless one for under $100.  

For a complete guide to technology in law school, including our specific computer recommendations, click here.