Smartphone Optimization for Law Students

Increasing numbers of law students carry smartphones, but many limit their more-than-your-average-phone use to personal email and QWERTY-supported SMS. Here are some tips for law students to harness the power of popular mobile handsets.

Smartphones and “superphones” can do a lot more for law students than send and receive calls and texts. Regardless of your handset choice (see a pitch for an Android phone here and for the iOS 4 here), there are apps and functionality that can improve your law school experience, helping you:

  • Quickly look up citations
  • Better manage your time
  • Communicate with students and profs
  • Gather information on the fly

Mobile law apps and sites for quick legal reference

It would take a while to list all of the mobile apps related to the law, so these are just highlights. The point is to use law-related applications and websites for your phone.

Chances are you have your phone on you most of the time, like when you’re wandering the stacks of the law library or plowing through a mountain of Westlaw printouts on the bus. Take advantage of the connectivity and easy-to-consume content provided by mobile law apps and websites, whenever it’s inconvenient to whip out your laptop.  Many phones have enhanced sharing features for web content, so you can always email yourself the links or text you find useful during mobile browsing sessions.

To find apps, search your phone’s market/store. Hamline University has compiled an excellent list  iPhone apps for law students. There are free apps for some legal reference materials, like the Rules of Civil Procedure and the US Constitution. There are plenty of specialized apps, too. For instance, political geeks will appreciate the Congress for Android app from Sunlight Labs.

Time management tools

Your phone has an alarm clock, which can be useful for reminding yourself when to start or stop certain study tasks. There are, of course, plenty of calendaring apps, many with notification features, by which you can break up your day into discrete and manageable chunks.

Robust communication choices

On any given day, I am texting, emailing, instant messaging, tweeting, and blogging from my phone. These communications are often directed at fellow students, at my law school’s institutional social media accounts, and even professors. Don’t be shy to try out multiple ways of reaching out to plan student events, get class notes from friends, ask questions, and ask for assistance. The caveat, of course, is that most people have preferred lines of communication for different types of messages. Be sensitive to that and tailor your use to your audience’s preferences when you can. And as far as professors are concerned, some of them still prefer to use the telephone, which is a function your smartphone probably can handle.

Jog your memory with information gathering tools

It’s probably not advisable to record a snippet of class lecture on your phone without your instructor’s consent. However, there are plenty of other ways to use your phone’s voice, image, and video recording capabilities that might be useful. Many law schools and professors insist on posting information on a physical bulletin board, be it the first assignment of the semester, end-of-term grades, or class rank. These are great opportunities to use you phone’s camera for reference (using discretion to not share information that’s limited to an in-school bulletin board for good reason). You can also use information management tools, like Evernote, to bring together bits and pieces you pick up with your phone.

How do you use your smartphone as a law student?

(photo: Laura Bergus)


  1. Avatar Jacklyn says:

    Uh oh. haha. I just gave up my smartphone and went to a reg phone for law school…just thought I didn’t need the added bills piling up. But I have already planned ways to still beenfit from what you mentioned above…just will need a couple different things to do so. haha.

  2. Avatar Martin says:

    I want to make a plug for my Nokia Lumia 900 Windows Phone. I start the day listening to news and music on TuneIn radio, or reading the USA Today, NY Times. I check the weather on to see whether I will walk to class or drive. I use it daily as a productivity tool at law school. The large rotating tiles on the phone make it easy to see the important information I need at a glance. Whether I have received emails, what my upcoming appointments are, missed calls and tasks. The calendar function keeps me on schedule for all of my classes, assignments and appointments. It syncs with my online calendar on the Microsoft website. It is set to vibrate and remind me of upcoming appointments. I receive all three of my email accounts on my phone. The virtual keyboard is large enough with the help of autocomplete to answer 90% of my email right from my phone. Since it is a Windows phone I can open and create Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents. I use Powerpoint as a study aid. I have created my class outlines in Powerpoint instead of the traditional Word document. I then email them to myself and save them to my phone. I can scroll through them like flashcards to study wherever I am at, whenever I have some spare time. I use Evernote to jot quick notes for things to remember for later. I use the app. almost daily for some of the non-legal vocabulary that judges like to use in their decisions. I access Westlaw from my phone as well. Very convenient to be able to look up a case when in a heated discussion over lunch with a fellow classmate. Our school uses the TWEN pages on Westlaw to post assignments so I am able to check on recent updates right from my phone. Those are some of the ways that I use my Windows smartphone in law school. It is really a little personal assistant in my pocket. I’d be a disorganized mess without it.

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