Be a Better Lawyer by Handwriting Your Notes

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on April 12, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you're a millennial lawyer, you most likely spent your entire academic career taking notes in class using your computer. But according to research conducted by UCLA and Princeton, you weren't doing yourself any favors. Looks like new news is old news.

The research suggested that those students who took notes by longhand actually learned material better and retained the information longer than their laptop typing counterparts. It's no secret that writing effectively and learning quickly are essential tasks for lawyers. Can writing notes by hand make you a better lawyer?

Luddites Learn Better?

The study, conducted by two of the nation's top schools, suggests that people who take notes by hand learn information better and retain that information longer than those who take notes by typing. The allure of the computer is obvious. People don't practice shorthand anymore, but everyone knows how to type and can usually type faster than write. People who take notes by pen and paper usually are about a third slower than people who type their notes.

Not to suggest that longhand note takers are Luddites, but you have to admire someone who has the guts to sit down and take longhand notes in class these days. What possible impetus was there for them to do it?

Researches suggest that the actual process of condensing the information into more precise bits actually helps the brain digest and process the material. While people who type focus on trying to capture lectures verbatim, longhand note takers are forced to process information into more manageable parts. The very process of taking that information and breaking it down is learning.

The Sample? Or Causation?

Interestingly, the studies suggest that this is not a phenomenon of "self-selecting." Even students who were forced to take notes by hand for purposes of the study out-performed their typing counterparts in tests. Thus the theory that longhand note taking is a formative learning process itself at least runs consistently with the observations.

Let's Not Rag on Computers Entirely

There are some advantages to taking notes by typing, but they're short lived. When tested immediately after taking notes, the computer note takers performed slightly better than the longhanders. But after 24 hours, the longhanders out-performed the typists completely.

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