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Asked • 07/14/20

As so much of Law School & the various Bar Exams are going online, what should I do to adjust? I don't want tech troubles blocking my career path.

As Law Schools and the Bars move online due to Covid, many Law Students and Bar Applicants will be experiencing online learning and remote examinations for the first time. Naturally, several don't feel comfortable with this new regime.

Here are some tips:

(1) Learn all about your remote learning program from Skype to Microsoft Teams to Google Hangouts to Zoom to Cisco [and the list could go on and on]. Law and Bar Staff will require that you use exam software that will block all other unrelated programs on your computer. The Bar Exam is not open book.

(2) Dress for the remote classes and exams...even more professionally that you might have dressed in Law School. For men, a sports jacket and tie will be just the ticket. Remember all the times when businessmen and women have shown up online in their pajamas or robe with their hair askew. Many years of climbing the career ladder could be for naught.

(3) Before your lessons or exams begin double and triple check that your camera is working, your audio is good, and your microphone is set so as not to be too loud or otherwise distorted. You might even bring in a professional IT (who can come into your computer remotely- see secure "Team Leader") to be sure your hard drive is not overloaded, that all bloatware is removed, that your start up programs are mostly moved to the background where you can manually control the startup programs, and that you have adequate virus protection, malware protection, privacy protection, and real time protection from dreaded ransomware. Some protection programs are free and some pricey. Computer firewalls come to mind along with free basic or upgraded programs from Avast, Malwarebytes, Norton, MacAfee, Microsoft Security, and Kaspersky. Many (most?) internet service providers include free of charge virus protection. In all events download CCleaner (free version- and use this program frequently) to get rid of unused junk files, past search history, and other temporary files. Several programs have a shredder, so never get anywhere near that button. That is only for when you resale your computer and want it free of anything personal to you or your family.

(4) Your in-home Wi-Fi can be a big source of problems (caused by other devices in use at your office or home, thick walls, reaching maximum band width (without an upgrade from your provider), or even a slight thunderstorm). You should use Ethernet cabling running directly from your modem to your laptop or desktop, thereby avoiding Wi-Fi altogether during crucial remote learning classes. And run free internet speed checks from various sources. It may be necessary to buy a Wi-Fi extender or newer router for those times when you are not hooked up to Ethernet. Some newer computers do not have Ethernet ports. If that describes your ports you can purchase a USB-3 cable with a USB-3 to Ethernet patch cord. Those in the know, not mere mortals, may opt for the Apple compatible lightening cable or Windows compatible Thunderbolt cable.

(5) If during law school your camera is not up to par, it is likely time for a new external one. The best are made by Logitech and the highest rated external camera for personal and small office use will cost about $125.00 dollars. It is called the Logitech C920 HD Pro.

(6) Don't overlook your microphone. Run some test exercises with a friend so they can vet how your microphone sounds to an outsider. If your microphone does not receive and transmit properly, particularly if you get echoing or a bad feedback loop, it is time to move to an external microphone different than the microphone that came with your computer or may have been included as part of your new camera.

(6) If you will be sitting for the Bar Exam be sure you have previously, and substantially, upgraded your upload and download speeds (as medium size law offices might do)- a quick “upgrade please” chat with your internet provider will be fast and should be hassle free. And inquire whether your provider, free of charge, can handle some of the other services I have discussed above.

(7) Now for what should be an easy decision: You have spent thousands of dollars in tuition and for Bar Prep providers. You need a Bar Exam dedicated computer- at a price that pales next to what you have already spent to get where you- not to mention the income you will lose, if due to technical difficulties you can't reliably use the Exam software. Here you want the least complicated, but still highly rated laptop or desktop you can find. A tablet or a cell phone simply will not do. Those devices are not immersive and so small you can be pressing three keys on your board at the same time. The bigger the laptop or computer screen (within reasonable limits), the better. If you will be purchasing a laptop, weight should not be an issue as this new computer is primarily for a one-time use- as you expect, I hope, to pass the Bar Exam on a single sitting.

(8) Once your “dedicated” computer is free of all programs having nothing to do with the Bar Exam or Law School, it is essential that you turn your attention to lighting and background. You never want white light coming in from a window, open door to a lit room, or an overly bright light behind you. Your video "game face on" will be washed out. Instead, you want a warm light (perhaps with a diffuser) in front of you to bring out your face, suit or pantsuit. Many programs- Skype for example- will permit you to change your background with imbedded displays, blurred displayed, or a host of displays available via Skype from the internet and easily downloaded. Here, again, you must have your friends tell you how you look. Background and lightening are a very difficult task. During shelter orders many nationally known reporters and their talking heads broadcast from their homes with distracting (lousy) backgrounds; and frequently experienced frozen video and/or audio caused by interference with Wi-Fi from storms or internet or Wi-Fi at too low a speed. There are many videos on You Tube that will teach you more than you ever will need to know regarding every aspect of a professional looking "studio" area with good sound, an excellent camera, and a microphone that works and is easy on the ears (the top of the line external microphones can run into the hundreds of dollars).

Later I will add more remote learning and exam tips to this answer. Always assume that a professor is looking directly at you and will not judge you simply on your intellect, preparation for class, and Socratic questions and answers. Professional appearance and semi-professional studio-like settings are crucial, as well.

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