Dropbox for law students


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dropbox_logoDropbox is a cross-platform sync, backup, and file sharing tool that I find absolutely essential to my life as a law student. Sam Glover recently wrote a short post on how he uses Dropbox as a practicing attorney. I’m here to tell you how to get the most out of Dropbox as a law student.

Set up Dropbox

To get started, head over to the Dropbox website, sign up for an account, and download the Dropbox installer. When installing you can specify a location for your Dropbox folder. I prefer to house my Dropbox folder in “C:asdf.” It may sound arbitrary, but this makes it easy to get to from the command line. This is especially useful for Linux or Cygwin users.

Next, organize your Dropbox folder for easy administration. I literally place every file that has to do with law school or my employment in the Dropbox folder. This gives me quick and easy access to my files wherever I have an internet connection.

For the easiest administration, create the following folders: “docs,” “docs-archive,” and “bak.” The “docs” folder is for any document or file that I will need to access on at least a weekly basis. The “docs-archive” folder is for storage of past semester classes into separate subdirectories. I use “bak” for any smaller back-up files, such as Firefox user settings and backups of my blog. Those of you familiar with Lifehacker will recognize this organizational scheme as a Gina Trapani original.

Under the “docs” folder, I have subdirectories for each aspect of my law school career in the following format: <Current Semester>, <Current Employer>, <Job Search>. Under <Current Semester>, each class gets it’s own folder. All resumes, cover letters, and firm correspondence are stored in <Job Search>. Use whatever works for you. Under <Current Employer>, each client file or task you are assigned can be given its own subdirectory, similar to each class under the current semester folder.

Dropbox web access

The magnificence of Dropbox is that you can log into your web interface using your username and password to view and download your files from any computer. As a bonus, Dropbox is cross-platform, meaning that you can sync files online and across computers no matter the operating system. If you are in for a long day of studying at the school library, leave your laptop at home, sit at a nice big-screen desktop, login to your Dropbox account, and download whatever outline you need from the web interface. You don’t even have to carry anything with you to the library! Just do not forget to log out of your account and clear any privacy settings from your browser when you are finished.

Sharing files

For those of you who wish to collaborate and share outlines or notes with your classmates, simply click “Share” under your Dropbox interface, name your shared folder, and input the emails of those you wish to invite as collaborators. The shared folder will then appear in their Dropbox, and all users will share a single copy of any file located in that folder.

Worried about collaborators having access to your other files and folders? Don’t. Collaborators of your shared folder will not have access to other shared folders or your private files. This is good if you would like to make an outline with one person, but do not necessarily want that person to have access to that golden test from an upperclassman that you received in another class (how cutthroat of you).

Dropbox also has a wonderful iPhone interface that allows users to access any file in their Dropbox account from the iPhone. Forget a document at the big interview? Visit the Dropbox iPhone interface and email your interviewer any document in your Dropbox.

As an end note, if you want to share files and folders with users who do not choose to install Dropbox, simply place those files into your “Public” folder. Any file in the Pubic folder will be given a link to send to others via email, IM, SMS message, etc.


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  • I use a similar service called Syncplicity. Any law student who doesn’t invest in automated backup system like this is courting a world of pain come finals time. The 100GB of space I shell out for has paid for itself many, many times over and the secure web access lets me get to what I need from any computer.

  • Will Geer

    Syncplicity is a great service as well, but I prefer Dropbox for its ability to sync more than 2 computers for free. For online backup exclusively, I believe Mozy is the best deal at $60 a year. I do love the ability to sync specific folders in Syncplicity rather than have a “My Dropbox” folder though.

  • Chris_

    Or, a small $40 external harddrive you backup to once every week/2 weeks? It’s less reliable than these services, but it’s a whole lot cheaper and doesn’t hog system resources…

  • Chris,

    On the contrary, I use the FREE 2GB DropBox as my backup. I never have to remember to sync it to anything and I can access all of my files from anywhere (including my iPhone).

    I’m not saying there is no place for an external hard drive, but I sure have not felt the need for one.

  • I use an external drive for daily backup, because when it comes to client files, you can’t be too careful. But that is nowhere near as versatile as Dropbox.