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March 29, 2005

About Macs at GW and GW Generally

A reader has requested advice about using a Mac at GW (and attending GW generally). GW requires incoming students to have a laptop, and it all but orders them to buy one of two or three Dells with certain features. It explicitly states it does not support any other platform and will not provide any assistance whatsoever to anyone using anything other than a PC. If you choose to use a PC but not one of the recommended Dells, you'll still get some support, but not the full package (whatever that is). So it's basically a PC-only school, yet I've used a Mac there for the past two years, and I'm not the only one. So what's the deal? For anyone who is interested, here are the problems you will *definitely* encounter using a mac at GW: 1) You can't print to the network printers. PC users can print from anywhere in the school via the wireless network to printers located on the second floor (and maybe elsewhere; I don't pay attention since it doesn't work for me). To print anything, you'll have to email it to yourself, check your email on a school computer (there are two PC computer labs where you can always find an open computer), and print from there. I just bought a $125 laser printer and print everything at home except for emergencies when I do the above. Note: Both Lexis and Westlaw give students free printing from their services. This works fine on the mac. 2) You will feel very sad that your computer doesn't crash or freeze or just stop working every couple of weeks or months. You will not be on a first-name basis with the computer help desk -- you may not even know where it is (I don't). You will generally have far fewer things to bitch about so far as your computing goes, and law students really hate not having things to complain about. ;-) That's all I can think of, really. If you've got access to a PC laptop for taking finals, that's all you need. And if you're a relatively comfy mac user who is not phased by the above sort of printing issues or lack of access to a computer help-desk on a regular basis, etc., you'll be fine. If you're someone who maintains his/her own machine now and is going to be comfortable continuing to do so in the future even after you've become a suddenly helpless and pampered law student, you should be fine. Note also: GW tries to further scare you into buying a PC by mentioning that you'll be required to use special PC-only software for your 1L legal writing classes, but they've made this claim for two years now and so far they haven't started using that software and I've heard no further mention of it outside this computer policy rhetoric. My guess is they just throw that around as an extra threat to discourage people from ignoring their orders that you buy a Dell. Whatever. If anyone has other questions about GW, send them along and I will respond and ask any other GW people to respond as well. (That goes for the above, too—if you're a GW student, alum, or professor and have thoughts on computing at GW, please do share!) Generally, it's a fine school, lots of opportunities, some really great professors, good wireless access, sort of crap library but ok if you like old maze-like study environments (and some do), rank-focused, very intent on helping students become BigLawyers and get judicial clerkships, small but still very worthwhile clinical program, supposedly great IP and international human rights programs (I don't know, but that's what I hear), pretty sad public interest support but I'm told it's better than some other places, and....? That's all I can think of right now, so again, I open the floor to any GW peeps who might agree/disagree w/my assessments or have anything to add. I will thank you for explaining why GW is better than I think it is b/c regardless of what I think, I'm stuck here for another year so if you can help me appreciate it more, please do! (And that is not to say that I don't like the school or whatever, only that I think it leaves much to be desired...).

Posted March 29, 2005 09:25 AM | 2L law school

I just have to say, that I LOVE the library over here!

As to computing: I am not a Mac person, but at the same time, I am not a Dell person. Before starting at GW, I spent quite some time trying to decide if I should fear the threats that went along with the Dell purchase program or just risk it, get a good computer, and possibly not have great customer support. (How ironic that they wanted us to believe if we buy the Dell, we get better customer support - HA.) In the end, I went with a Sony VAIO and have not had a single problem. Frankly, I don't need the customer support because I got a good machine. I only went to the help desk once and that was for them to install the necessary GW stuff for me to access the wireless network. It came standard on Dell, but not mine. Other than that, I have had no problems. I would HIGHLY suggest purchasing the computer you want, since it is your money and will be your new best friend.

PS...the LRW 'secret' software is a farce as well. We asked our prof the first day and she had no clue what we were talking about. Most of us do not use our laptops at all in that class, as every word spoken in there is given to you on some sort of handout.

As for the "Why I love GW" question, I am sitting on a panel for Preview Day this Friday to answer those very questions, so I will wait until after that to answer.

Posted by: Law-Rah at March 29, 2005 11:56 AM

The Dell purchase program is nice because it's all set up for you, and ready to go.

I already had a pretty good year laptop, that I decided to keep for a "home computer." So, I just wanted something that was ready to go and I wouldn't have to worry about.

Of course, the first one Dell sent me didn't work. And the second one didn't work on the wireless network without a trip to the help desk...but otherwise, it was nice just to be able to take something cheap from the box to class.

$1500 is a pretty good deal for a computer that you're just using to supplement your home computer for 3 years.

Posted by: Farmer in the Dell at March 29, 2005 03:19 PM

GW Law's library IS weird and maze-y. At least you're not stuck with crappy non-ergonomic chairs.

Posted by: Avoiding Billable Hours at March 29, 2005 10:56 PM

amb imb, why would you say "pretty sad public interest support"? Admissions is selling GW's LRAP to us as a guaranteed 37k salary - is there enough funding to back this? Do you anticipate being eligible? I think GW's PI support is better than a lot of other similar ranked schools, even though the bar is set very low (e.g. Texas has no LRAP).

Posted by: GW Prospy at March 30, 2005 12:34 AM

GW Prospy: Yes, the LRAP sounds, um, ok, but I've only heard of one person ever using it. I haven't figured out why, other than that $37k doesn't satisfy most GW grads, I guess. It sounds fine to me. I'm thinking there are hidden caveats that prevent people from using the LRAP, but I haven't verified this. Whenever I've tried to ask people at GW about the LRAP I'm passed around from person to person and none of them will give me any more detailed info than you can find online. It's a little strange and makes me worried. But yes, if the LRAP actually works as advertised, it sounds like it could be pretty helpful and it's one of the main reasons I came to GW.

LRAP aside, I say GW has poor PI support b/c it puts few other resources toward PI. Yes, it gives out $165k (or something like that) each year in grants for PI summer work, and that sounds like a lot, but it's really not much when you stop to consider that GW has nearly 800 students. But it's not just about the money; a school's support for PI also depends on the attitude of the administration and faculty and on the other institutional support the school provides for PI education and legal work. We have a "public interest liason" in the career development office who is way way way overworked b/c in addition to being responsible for PI she is also a regular career counselor who has to help other students find firm jobs. There is also someone who has recently started working on promoting pro bono work among students, and that's great, but the promotion seems to consist of giving students gold stars.

These are all fine things, and I don't have a grand plan for what would be better. My impression is simply that these things are about the bare minimum a school the size of GW can get away with. That impression comes from an overall institutional emphasis on BigLaw and school rank, which means, in my opinion, everything GW does is calculated to improve those two things. If adding a part-time "pro bono liason" or adding $10k to the school's PI grants each summer will boost the school's rank a bit, then GW will do that. Otherwise, it won't. The faculty I've encountered almost uniformly assume that GW students are headed for BigLaw and they teach and speak to that goal every single day. The ones who even take time to mention other options often seem almost apologetic about it, disclaiming their statements beforehand as something they doubt students will really care about or want to consider. Overall, my distinct impression after being here two years is that PI is just not one of the school's priorities.

All of that said, I've done fine at GW. There are some great faculty and staff who *do* care about PI work and will help you out as much as they can, and I deeply appreciate their support. However, if you want to go to a school where PI is a priority, you may be able to do better than GW. I could be wrong. This is one place where the EJW's Guide to Public Interest at Law Schools is going to be invaluable -- instead of just having my subjective impressions, it should give you some hard data by which to compare schools. Maybe GW will really shine in comparison to other schools. I'd be surprised, but it wouldn't be the first time.

On the bright side, GW needs more students who start school w/a commitment to PI, so you could always view improving GW's PI support as one of the goals of your time here and challenge yourself to make the program better for those who come after you. Doing that would enrich your own education and experience at GW, even as it helps future students who want to do PI work. I've worked with the EJF from day one and that has been very rewarding. From the little that I'm able to do, I hope to leave GW's PI program stronger than I found it, which may not be something I could realistically hope to do at a school that was more PI-focused to begin with.

Posted by: ambimb at March 30, 2005 06:35 AM

Awesome response - thanks.

Posted by: GW Prospy at March 30, 2005 09:59 AM

You may be able to print on campus. I had similar problems at my school. Solution:
Go to the printer at school. Go through the menus on the printer and have it print out an "Information page" about the printer. On that printout will be an IP address for the printer.
In your OS X printer setup, you should use this as the IP address for "IP Printing." That was my way around. Moreover, I didn't have to pay for printing like the other PeeCee students. Score!

Posted by: MikeB at April 1, 2005 01:54 PM

I disagree with your account of the faculty at GW. We must have been in different sections because most of my 1L professors discouraged us from the big firms. This year there has been less career talk from professors, but I certainly do not feel as though they are teaching for a big firm.

Posted by: another GW 2L at April 1, 2005 02:09 PM

MikeB: I tried something like that IP trick last year but I couldn't get it to work. Since then, I've wished I could print maybe twice, so it's not really worth the hassle.

Another GW 2L: That's good to hear, and it shows why it's so important that more GW students start blogging about their experience -- I don't know everything, as much as I like to pretend I do. ;-)

I also have found that many of my professors have actively discouraged pursuit of firm jobs, but invariably this comes sandwiched between assumptions that we all want or plan to head for BigLaw. It comes in a sort of three-step process like this:

1) I know many of you are looking forward to those big paychecks....
2) .... but you really should consider other options -- there are many more rewarding things you could do with your JD ....
3) .... but when you're taking home those big checks, don't forget about pro bono work and extra things that can add a lot to your life and give back to the community.

This is why I say the default at GW is BigLaw. It's not that the faculty are actively pushing students toward BigLaw, rather they just seem to assume that's what students are interested in. I would prefer to see them assume otherwise and teach toward public interest law, making exceptions and caveats for people going into BigLaw, instead of the other way around.

But again, this is my subjective impression. I'm just curious whether you see any similar pattern in those times that your 1L professors discouraged you from heading for firms....

Posted by: ambimb at April 1, 2005 02:30 PM

I do agree that GW pushes BigLaw, but I just feel it comes more the administration and the career office than the faculty (though I am sure there are professors that do feel that all GW students want biglaw). But, most of the professors have worked at big firms and have since left, so there is often not a lot of love there. I have also found that the majority of the GW students do want biglaw, so the school might be pandering to its audience (and the rankings).

I have heard professors say the quotes you list above, but I have also heard things like the following:

1) If you came to law school to pursue a particular goal, remember that goal, do not get caught up in the hype of biglaw just because others are doing it
2) Most people who work in a firm hate it and leave (professor then tells story of former student)
3) The large debt from law school can cause people to want a big pay check, but you have a life without all that money. There are costs on both sides

It is possible that I am being defensive about the faculty, because they are the part of the school I like the most. I often regret the decision I made to come to GW, but I what usually makes me feel better is the quality of the faculty (and that it will be over soon).

Posted by: another GW 2L at April 2, 2005 11:38 AM

"You will feel very sad that your computer doesn’t crash or freeze or just stop working every couple of weeks or months."

As a view from the spirited opposition, I might point out that I've had two requests this year to help fix Macintoshs with (a) a failed hard drive and (b) a bust monitor. (I recovered the data from the first--using a PC--and couldn't do anything about the latter, which had to be returned.) Given the size of the Mac population at Columbia, that's about on par with requests I've gotten for the same with PCs.

My experience is that Linux or Mac users who love their systems have fewer problems for exactly the same reason that my Dell PC has only had hardware problems and the (very rare) software issue: they know their machines and know how they work. That's not to say that you should buy a PC before going to law school, but I'm fairly certain that if AI had a PC and put the time into it that he has with his Mac, it would experience very rare breakdowns.

Posted by: A. Rickey at April 3, 2005 02:10 PM

I would hope that anyone who would go against the flow and get a mac in law school would do so for good reasons—probably comfort with the platform, for the most part.

But the fact is that most people don't know the ins and outs of their machines—and don't want to. Those people should get PCs, or at least get a machine they know they can get help with. I appreciate that law schools encourage students to get certain machines so they can help those students with any problems they have.

What I don't appreciate is law schools all but threatening that a student who gets a non-recommended machine will be cut off from the school network, unable to take exams, etc. I wish they'd state it more like I did—if you don't have a machine that you are comfortable using and troubleshooting, here's what we recommend; if you already use a machine that you love and know inside and out, keep using it, with these caveats...

So Anthony is right—if ai had gotten a PC and loved his PC, he'd have few problems. But most people (not to mention law students) don't have the kind of love for their computers that Anthony or ai have, and they will eventually need help. If you won't need help, get what you want. If you will, get what the school recommends, for sanity's sake.

Posted by: kristine at April 3, 2005 03:41 PM

"I often regret the decision I made to come to GW, but I what usually makes me feel better is the quality of the faculty (and that it will be over soon)."

Another GW 2L: can you elaborate a bit for the prospective student who's about to make a big decision?

Posted by: GW Prospy at April 3, 2005 11:27 PM

Macs do break and crash, too, you know. I abused my little hand-me-down Toshiba for 5 or 6 years, and the only problem I ever had was with the battery. Meanwhile, someone in the department recently bought a big, shiny, gajillion-dollar powerbook and within a month it had some kind of seizure and she lost 10 pages of her diss. Which she hadn't backed up. Because, well, she was using a *Mac* ;-)

(Sorry - couldn't resist . . .)

Posted by: j9 at April 4, 2005 02:09 AM

j9: Ouch. Very sorry to hear about that. But what you say is true: Macs do fail and have problems. And Apple certainly makes its share of lemons; reports like this are not hard to come by. There's even a growing population of "switchers" who have gone from PC to Mac and are switching back for various reasons. So the Mac is only computing nirvana for some; for others, not so much.

I agree w/A. Rickey -- I don't understand it, but somehow people destroy their machines if they don't ever think about their computers and how they work. Love your machine and it will love you back. ;-)

Another GW 2L: I, too, would like to hear more about your GW likes/dislikes/impressions....

Posted by: ambimb at April 4, 2005 05:48 AM

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