5 Best Laptops For Lawyers & Law School Students in 2020

There are lots of expenses during Law School especially when you are first starting out.

And well you really have no control over them so it may be reasonable try to cut down costs wherever you see the chance.

One of them is your laptop…

But it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to settle for a slow and heavy brick that can only be used for note taking.

With the proper research and knowledge….

You cat get a pretty capable machine  that will not only last you through those 3 years in law school but might even last long enough for you to take the bar exam.

As for me, I’m still using my laptop from law school days…

It was my good friend and owner of the site who gave me some pointers on what I should be looking for in a computer.

Of course, he had no idea of what school will look like or has no idea what law school is like today

This is where I step in.

So I’ll add a few things to his advice having in mind what I already went through at law school.

Recommended Specs for Law School

It basically comes down to aesthetics(thinness,weight,size) while making sure your workspace area is as comfortable as possible.

What about power? Come on let’s be real here all laptops made durin’ the past two years can all do the things you’ll encounter during law school and can even throw video/photo editing into the mix.

The only type of software you’ll be using for law school is something along the lines of word processors, web browsers and software to take exams like ExamSoft (or Exemplify).

But I guess we should still make sure we get smooth performance for insane multitasking when web browsing too.  For that, we’re going to need to avoid a few things (slow/old hardware):

CPU
AMD or Intel doesn’t matter just make sure you’ve got at least 3GHz (Not all laptops do!). Don’t go overboard, more power means more energy which translates to less battery life. Core i3 or Core i5 with the U label from 7th or 8th generation from the 7th and 8th generation are okay but they can be more expensive! If you get any laptop from the AMD Ryzen X series or the 10th,9th generation Core i3 processors you’ll have 3.5GHz and stay cheap.

RAM
4GB RAM is enough to function. 8GB RAM is a must if you want to do crazy multitasking and to launch several stuff simultanously.

Storage
While most schools would recommend 250GB. Even 128GB will suffice, your docs won’t take up much space, even thousands of pdfs won’t. Most laptops with an HDD have over 250GB anyways.

On the other hand, Solid State Drives may have low storage but can save you up a lot of time by opening/saving files and booting up your machine or launching your software in a flash(seconds add to hours!). Get an SSD.

Display
The only thing you need to watch out for is:

Resolution: Preferably 1080p. If it’s out of your budget, you can get an HD+ display, it’s okay not to be perfect in every spec.

KeyBoard
You are going to be typing your eyes out on this thing so make sure you’ve got a great keyboard because you need to type quickly and accurately too. I’ll teach you how to find good keyboards on laptops in the last section but all laptops I posted here have decent keyboards.

BackLits: are a nice feature especially for late night studying and when the lectures are given with all lights turned off.

Weight
Remember you’ll be lugging this thing everywhere. 3lb is ideal. Aything over 3lb will start to take a toll on your body.

Unfortunately, ~3lb laptops are expensive so I’ve included a cheap yet decent 5lb laptop if you think you’ll be okay with the weight.

WiFi
Don’t worry about Wifi Cards. As long as your laptop is recent, it’ll come with the latest protocol : 802.11 AC and network card in it. If you go for older models be sure to check the “AC” label on it, this will give you the fastest wireless connections. What about the latest AX protocol? It will only help if lectures/conferences have a hundred people accesing the internet.

Top 5 Best Laptops For Lawyers

In my law school days, I’ve seen everything from 17″ MBPs to those 9″ mini laptops. Some of my classmates even took hand written notes (crazy to me – but I’m not a big note taking guy).

Warning: Given the fact that law school doesn’t seem to require anything special but something portable, it may seem as if netbooks are the way to go but please don’t buy a netbook unless you know what you know how to read specs because they can insanely slow . 

They’re cheap because at every point of the manufacturing process the designer has chosen price over quality. I know you are thinking “Im only going to use it to take notes” but then you’ll spend 3 years regretting it and wishing you’d paid a few hundred more bucks. If you’re still interested, check the 11 inch laptop post to see which ones are worth looking at.

Instead try to get one of the following 4 ultrabooks, if you can’t afford any of these then go the last option , #5, it’s heavy but quite snappy for office work.


 1. ASUS ZenBook

Budget ASUS Laptop For Law School

  Core i5-8265U

  8GB RAM DDR4

   Intel UHD

  512GB PCIe NVMe SSD

  13” full HD TN

  2.5lb

  7-8 hours

Given the specs and the fact most of you are going to be typing and reading from this thing all day, the choice for law school really becomes between a MacBook (which are by nature thin with great keyboards and a really long battery life)  and a thin premium Ultra Book.

Unfortunately, both a new MacBook and premium windows Ultrabooks  cost an eyeball.

However, there’s one candidate that has most of the features of the MacBooks and yet it is quite affordable. That’s the ASUS ZenBook shown here. 

While last year’s model  had a few flaws like the lousy keyboard and plastic design, the latest model has none of these and this time is actually made of full aluminum lid.

Just like last year’s model is also very easy to carry, in fact, it’s even lighter than the MacBook Air (1/2 a pound lighter) though not as thin.

700 bucks is still expensive I know but imo it’s worth every penny…

Think about it, when you have a laptop this powerful yet so thin and lightweight, you’ll never hesitate bringing it with you everywhere.  The best perk about feather weight laptops is that you’ll never be stuck somewhere without doing anything, you’ll have your laptop at your disposal anytime (think about all the time spent commuting wasted looking at the walls of the subway tunnel and the trees if you take the train).

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2. MacBook Air

Best Apple Laptop For Law School

  Intel Core i5 2.9GHz

  8GB RAM LPDDR3

   Intel HD

  256GB SSD

  13” 1440×900 TN

  ~3lb

  +13 hours

The MacBook Air is what actually got me through law school.

So why am I even listing the Air anyways? Well two reasons. One in case your dad is a big lawyer and he can actually help you afford one.

Two, if you are poor like I was, there are several ways to get a fairly cheap yet almost new MacBook Air.

Why bother though?

Well the Air has as far as I am concerned has the best keyboard ever produced in the history of laptops, that may be an exageration but that’s what I was actually told back then and I really believed it when I got my hands on it.

I’m refering to the MacBook Air without the touchBar or any of the older versions

The New’s MacBook keyboard (which you can test in any Apple Store) isn’t as good as the Old Model (although the new MacBook Air’s keyboard is still better than most Windows UltraBooks). The problem is that the New MacBook Air has a lot less travel so it makes them a bit more annoying to type on.

By the way,  MacBooks have backlit keyboards so you won’t be at a disadvantage when the lecture is given with overhead projectors and lights turned off.

Another noteworthy feature of any of the MacBook Airs is their thinness. I mean, this thing is so thin it can easily find its way inside a pair of notebooks in your bag and maybe even inside your notebook depending on how big yours is.

There’s also another reason to opt for Macs: the trend.

Seriously a lot of law school classrooms look like Apple Commercials and you might be better off hoping on that bandwagon say for being able to borrow chargers and easy troubleshooting from peers.

From what I’ve heard the U of T has 2/3 of its student using them.

How can I get a cheaper MacBook Air?

Getting back to the price, you  probably can’t afford the current versions, the 11 inch version (which was discontinuted) is a bit cheaper and it’s even lighter at 2.2lb with an Intel Core i5 processor and that’s something unsual for an 11 inch laptop.

The problem is, the 11 inch screen, is too small for multitasking. If you think you’re just going to be typing and don’t mind alt tabbing then it shouldnt be an issue and you could save yourself a lot of money and still end up with a high quality machine that will last you throughout Law School and beyond.

You can also opt for any of the refurbished 13” Models on Amazon. Do not be afraid to get refurbished Macs, they work like a champ and will last you several years despite not being “new”.

What about Exam Soft? Would hell break loose if I buy a Mac ?

There’s conflicting stories about Exam soft working better on Windows or Macs. I’ll talk about it a bit more in the last section but for now I’ll just let you know either that either can give you problems. Here’s a pro tip to avoid that:

 Don’t let your computer update its OS until you’re completely sure the new version hasn’t given other people who’ve updated issues

What About the MacBook Pro?

The MacBook Pro has a lot more raw power but it’s not as portable unless you get the latest 13” version which is very very expensive.

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3. Lenovo X-Carbon

Best Lenovo Laptop For Law School

  Core i5-8350U

  8GB RAM DDR4

   Intel HD 620

  256GB PCIe NVMe SSD

  14” FHD IPS Anti-Glare

  2.49lb

  8 hours

If you are actually loaded with Cash and just can’t handle the big Apple Logo in the back, the Lenovo X-Carbon will be more of your style.

It’s not just lightweight but it actually has a great great keyboard too.

Unlike the MacBook Airs, the Lenovo doesn’t carry a “M” or “Y” CPU, by that I mean, a weaker version of the Core i5, it has a full blown Core i5 , the ones you usually find on powerful laptops like the MacBook Pro. 

Obviously, having that much power isn’t useful at all for anything Law-School related (even if you want to throw gaming on it, you’re still a graphics card short) but you should consider this puppy for the screen size, the fact that it’s windows and it’s ultra thin/portable too.

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4. Surface Pro 7

Best PC Laptop For Law School

  Core m3 , Core i5, Core i7 10th generation

  4GB-16GB RAM

  Intel UHD/Iris

  128GB-1TB PCIe NVMe SSD

  12” IPS 2736×1824

  1.7lb or 2.2lb (w/ keyboard)

  10 hours

Surprised to see a Surface Pro because it lacks a keyboard?

A lot of people in law school use it though, how about that?

You’ll just be using your laptop to take exams, accessing legal research sites and using Word to write papers or to take notes. The Surface Pro can do all of that and more.

In fact, if you use the stylus, you might not even need to get the keyboard which is sold separately.

The stylus and the TouchScreen feature will give you the most realistic note taking experience you can get from any electronic device made today. That is what actually makes the Surface Pro one of the most sought devices by students regardless of their subject.  Heck, there’s mathematicians writing equations with neat graphs on it too.

You just won’t be limited to a tablet like experience though, the Pro comes also has a docking station that can let you attach one or two external monitors + mouse + sound speakers and anything else you’d want in a desktop to use back home.

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5. Acer Aspire E15 E5-575

Best Cheap Laptop For Law School

  AMD Ryzen 3 3200U

  8GB RAM DDR4

   AMD Radeon Vega 3

  128GB SSD

  15” IPS full HD 1080p

  5.3lb

  8 hours

This is the cheapest machine out of the list and may even be the only cheapest “decent” and recent machine.

Before you consider this model. Make sure your school’s bookstore doesn’t have a deal with Dell or HP.

Why?

Despite the cool keyboard , the power and the great display , the fast SSD and great battery life, this laptop is quite heavy and definitely not something you want to lug everywhere.

There’s one big advantage of cheap 5lb laptops though: you could self-insure by getting two of these puppies (and only use one of the home) and then you would be even more prepared for disasters comes finals time.

How?

There was a classmate whose laptop went out during finals and he had to spend several days without one. The probability of both of your laptops dying? 10E-5.

Going below 300$ will get you decent laptops too but they will probably only last you no more than 2.5 years!

ChromeBooks might be a better option since they have all the qualities described and last forever but they can’t have ExamSoft Installed in it, they can be used to take notes though.

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How to Buy A Laptop For Law School

To answer this question we need to consider what exactly you’ll encounter in law school in terms of classes, exam and such. What I am recommending here is just from personal experience, that is, from my days in law school and relying in part to current students in today’s law schools. I’ve also checked on a few guides written by law departments from different universities such as Stetson. Reading user’s comments in reddit/quora was also helpful in making this section.

Software & Classes

Here’s a list of all the software law school students usually encounter(you won’t necessarily have to use all of them):

  • MS Office
  • ExamSoft
  • Video PlayBack
  • One Note
  • WestLaw and Lexis: Legal search engines (free software)
  • EBB: The Electronic Bluebook (EBB) software used in many courses for final exams is available for both Windows and Macintosh. It does not support Linux (even if you run Windows in a virtual machine).
  • TextBooks on DVD

None of this software require anything extraordinary. All of them can be run on pretty much any laptop with Windows on it.
The issue at hand may be whether or not a Mac, given its insane battery life and portability, can be an option for you.

If you plan to buy a new laptop for law school, I would urge to wait until you’ve chosen a school then find out what computer systems/software they recommend/use.

ExamSoft & SoftTest

The whole issue with Windows/Macs/Tablets/iPads or whatever is this software, which must run on your device. First of all, anything other than a laptop is out of the question since you can’t install anything on tablets/ipads.

Mac or PC ?

Either will give you problems. Some people say that SoftTest & ExamSoft gets along much better with Windows and other’s that they get better along with Macs. You’re always going to hear stories about either working or not working witih these software.

Both will give you errors if the software can’t cope with the updates realeased both in Windows 10 or OSX.

So my first and most useful tip is:

Do not update your OS if whatever exam software you are running already works on your laptop. Especially days before the exam

Clinic Work

If you’re serious about doing clinic work, particularly criminal clinic work, (if your school provides it,) ask someone who volunteers there if the Crown disclosure/police evidence comes in a Mac compatible format.

For example:

Video (interviews, surveillance, etc) in Manitoba at least only runs on Windows.

Tips

Here are a few tips having to do with computers/taking notes in Law School:

Taking Notes

I always prefered taking notes by hand because it allowed me to listen more closely in lecture. I’d recommend you try it at first see how you do in Law School before switching to taking notes on a laptop. 

Before Exams

Simulate testing conditions several days before an Exam, that is, run the software on your computer. That way, if there are any faults in the process you’ll have plenty of time to get them fixed.

Formatting Essays

Professors have a lot of papers to read. So don’t believe that they will meticulously read yours without missing anything important. While you can talk to the professor after the exam if there’s anything you disagree with, he/she will be very unlikely to give you feed back.

You’ll always end up with a grade without knowing if the professor clearly understood all the points you made. If you focus on format rather than content.

You can try bolding/underlining and italizing but make sure your professor doesn’t mind using these tools.

That’s not the format I’m talking about though. You need a clear strategy and outline when writing your essays. At the end you may notice that you will get better grades by focusing more on format than by reading lots of text.

I’d recommend reading this book before attempting to take Law School Exams: Getting To Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams . It’s only fifteen bucks to get it online. Getting good grades has no price.

Extra Software

If your school doesn’t offer Office for free and you can’t afford it, there are some alternatives that are still compatible with Office found here: “best 100 free software for students

Recommended HardWare For Law School

Display

Probably the most important component since modern laptops have by default all of the above. There a few perks on investing on a good display. Try to get all three or as many of the following features as you can:

Size

Don’t discount screen size. Smaller may mean more portable and more battery, but there are many times when you’ll be glad you have a 13”-15″ laptop and have plenty of room for slides and pdfs open at the same time without having to squint at the screen.

1080p Resolution

More important than screen size in achieving this side by side multitasking is resolution. Even if you get an 11” laptop, the resolution will make it possible to fit in two windows simultaneously and actually have the proper size to become useful. 1080p Resolution is perfect for this.

IPS

IPS displays just don’t give you pretty colors and awesome color accuracy, they also give you the best viewing angles by this I mean you can flip back and forth your laptop screen and the image won’t be distorted.

Matte

I’ve sat in so many lectures watching the kids in front of me fiddle and fiddle and fiddle with their screen angles trying to avoid the glare from overhead lights–and watching the perfect reflections in their super-shiny screens as they pick at the keys–while I was happy with my matte-screened machine.

If you value your eyes I suggest you go for a matte display instead of a glossy finish. unless of course there’s no overhead lights wherever you are working at.

External Display

Sooner or later you’ll get a paper or an assignment that’ll just make you go crazy. You’ll need to collect data from multiple sources while simultaneously reading them. This is where an external display comes in handy.

You can attached this baby to your laptop back home and wonder how you ever functioned without all the extra screen size.

The bigger the screen, the better. Good places to look for great deals on external monitor are BestBuy, CostCo and if you don’t like getting out of your house and you are a student from overseas Amazon followed by NewEggs are good places to start.

Here’s a nice model the website owner uses:

 

Storage

Capacity

In my days, all you needed to know about storage was how much data they could. This was measured in gigabytes. Although we did have Solid State Drives(I’ll talk about them soon), the market was still flooded with “Hard Disk Drives”, the old fashioned and slow storage found inside most laptops today and the one you are probably acquianted with.

Today, just for about any type of work, storage drives have way too much capacity (1TB-2TB!) and even the cheap machines offer you with 1TB= 1000GB. This is enough to store a lifetime of files including photos, videos, pdfs,etc. For Law School, you’re only going to use 200GB at the most (even that’s pushing it x2 fold!).

Storage Speed

Today the current trend is getting a Solid State Drive, these new devices, can read and write data up x17 times faster than HDDs. This means booting up your machine in seconds (I’ve used a stopwatch – it was literally 6 seconds) and launch software/look up a document for a specific word instantly.

Other advantages:

  • More battery life: they don’t have any moving parts, not much energy consumption
  • Less prone to hardware failure: when you drop your laptop, there’s a 90% chance your data will still be safe and sound
  • Less Heat
  • Less Noise

Solid State Drives (SSD)

You’ll find them listed as “SSD”. It doesn’t matter what type of SSDs you get (there are two: PCIe NVMe vs M.2 SATA III), they’re both several times faster than HDDs. The only downside is that getting a decent capacity on them (512GB) can be quite expensive. Luckily, you are a law student, even 128GB will suffice.

Using the Cloud vs Back Up

Even with the most ruggerized solid state drive on your laptop, you should always back up your files. By this I mean, you should put all your important files either in cloud services like OneDrive, Drive, DropBox or your own’s school’s network servers (some actually let you back up your data using blackboard or whatever).

OneNote & OneDrive (One Love!)

Out of the services mentioned, OneDrive gives you the option to sync your notes from your class to the cloud continuosly as you type them. That is, if you use, OneNote, which you should also really consider for note taking.

If you aren’t using OneNote, please work on your papers using Google Docs…you don’t want to lose an entire paper and show up with the old my dog ate my laptop excuse and the teacher going: “Don’t worry Joe, It’s just your entire grade”.

External Hard Drive

An external back up can be handy but I mean what kind of lawyer needs a complete back up. I mean can you work with a new computer or a factory reset to yours after copying back all the important files you had on them? If the answer is yes, then, you don’t necessarily need a complete back up and rely on software to do it.

Just copy & paste your entire library of stuff into a gigantic USB Drive and the Cloud (never have irreplaceable stuff in just one location).

Whatever you copy into those locations

You may also want to consider an external hard drive with back-up software (or use the built-in backup software of your operating system) to minimize your problems, should your computer fail, but don’t rely solely on a local back-up system that can be damaged or stolen along with your computer. Online backup services such as Mozy are another possibility, though typically unnecessary. Flash drives can be used to keep instant back-ups of crucial data. But remember: Never have irreplaceable content in just one location!

What kind of stuff should I back up?

Whatever you back up you should be able to throw your computer off a bridge, lose no data and be back up and running in less than an hour with a different computer. If you have a desktop back at the dorm, this is much easier to do! Stick your back up USB in it or log into the cloud and stay indoors for the next few weeks until you can afford a new laptop!

RAM

You should get at least 8GB RAM.

4GB: Most cheap laptops come with 4GB RAM and Windows itself takes around 2GB, your web browser and MS Office and any other software you particularly like to run will quickly consume the remaining 2GB.

8GB: Will let you to do throw in some pretty insame multitasking. Even if you have to get a low-end processor in exchange for 8GB RAM, go get it. It’ll have more of an impact since processors are too fast today.

16GB and beyond: I shouldn’t even talk bout it in this post. It’s useless but I’m just mentioning because it seems some universities have the Old TI guy written their laptop recommendations with their “get as much as RAM as you can” which doesn’t hold true anymore, laptosp today can have up to 64GB, what kind of lawyer needs that? Perhaps if you want to video edit some evidence with Adobe Premiere and AE…

CPU

Picking up a processor for Law School is easy. Just avoid the most expensive and powerful ones? Why? They suck battery life. These are usually the Core i7 processor or Core i5 without the “U” label on it:

Core i7-7700HQ, Core i5-8300H,etc.

Also avoid any “old generation processor”

That is if the first number is less than a 6 run like Forrest Gump because these old bricks are too slow even for the current versions of MS Office and the now CPU/RAM intensive web browsing applications.

The best CPUs are anything with U label on it, which stands for ULV(Ultra Low Voltage) aka, I don’t suck energy, and I will not turn your laptop into a frying pan (they don’t generate too much heat)

Ex: Core i3-7100U, Core i3-8130U, Core i5-8250U. Any AMD processor without the label “Ryzen” will do just fine as well

Keyboard 

Finding the best keyboard is difficult, all the models shown above have great quality keyboards and in fact most laptops above 600$ do. If you are trying to cheap out on a laptop, then you really need to be cautious about keyboard quality.

You’re going ideally going to spend the next 3 years of your life working on this laptop nearly all day, no reason to settle for any bad keyboard or trackpad experience:

  • Try them out at your local store and order a similar model online (with the specs you want).
  • You want to type fast and easy on it (remember you’ll be taking exams on this machine)
  • Avoid Bilingual Keyboards: these have weird set ups (only half a shift key and the enter key wiedly positioned)
  • Read Reviews about the model you want, users always point out any faulty keyboards. If there isn’t majorly critiqued about them, they’re good to go.

For dorm or home use an external keyboard, mouse and flat panel monitor/television, you’ll get work done much faster that way

But don’t forget to close attention to the built-in keyboard if you are all day every day on campus!

Battery Life

Obviously, you’d want the longest battery life you can afford. This section wasn’t just written to tell you that though, here are a few tips to get the longest batteries (if you can’t afford the ultrabooks):

  • Core i3 processors give you the longest battery lives
  • Low resolution displays (768p, 900p). 1080p are best but they suck more energy
  • SSDs (swapping the hard-drive for an SSD or taking out completely will increae battery life)
  • Again Avoid Core i7 and powerful Core i5 (quad cores)

CD/DVD Drive

Don’t worry about these. Most installations of software can be done View Web Download or USB Drives, we’ve got insanely fast internet connections today. At least during for me, the CD/DVD drive thing hasn’t been an issue but who knows mileage may vary.

But if you absolutely need it, you can always attach an externel CD/DVD drive through the USB port.

Tablets

Tablets are terribly inefficient, if you really wanted to use a pen to write, you’re better off with pen and paper!

Plus you can’t expect to do everything with let’s say the latest iPad, you still need to run exam software and type on it.

Unless of course you buy any of the Surface Models, they have the most realistic writing experience ever produced. Paired up with the external keyboard, you can also turn into laptop-mode for typing.

ChromeBooks

They’re a terribly suggestions. Even though the prices are attractive, they can be just as limiting as a Tablet. You can’t install any software on it since they’re just made for web browsing and using apps in the cloud. If you on the other hand, want to use them as a second laptop (keep the main laptop are home for exams and such), they can be a great choice. The battery lives are insanely long and everything you work on is by default constantly saved in the Cloud.

OS: Mac vs PC

It doesn’t really matter. Both support ExamSoft or SoftTest or whatever exam software your school uses (you can always resort parallel if there’s anything written for Windows only – like Clinical Work).
Neither is better with Exam Software, forget about Windows or Mac debate, let’s call it for what it is. These Exam Software are trash. Just use the tips I mentioned and you’ll be alright though