There are a lot of decisions to make during the first year of law school, including whether to hand-write your exam essays or utilize your laptop. There are benefits and detriments to both methods, but handwriting is arguably your safest and best alternative.
The most obvious reason to hand write your law school essays is because there is a high probability that failing technology will force you to do so at some point during your law school career, or even during the bar exam; and you need to be prepared for this "tragedy". There are three weak links in the technology required for typing an essay answer: a fragile laptop, buggy exam software; and a loss of power to the laptop.
During any given law school exam you will likely witness at least one of these failures turn the laptop owners into nervous wrecks; especially if during the bar exam. Even during my own short three years of law school exams, I saw several instances of laptops being dropped, exam software freezing up, laptop hard drives detonating, and even entire exams administered during power outages; all of which required the victim to hand write their essays in the "dreaded" blue books.
These scenarios are reasons why you should at least be practicing handwriting you essays even if not hand writing during the exams themselves. By practicing this skill, the sudden change of plan from typing on your laptop to writing in a blue book should not be so stressful.
Computer Restrictions During Bar Exams
Using your laptop during the bar exam is a privilege, and not a right. Even though more and more state bar associations are allowing laptop access for examinees, some states restrict the number of laptop users, and most (if not all) other states require an application process in order to get your laptop approved. Even if you live in a state that currently allows laptops during the bar exam, this privilege could be revoked at any time.
Build Better Writing Habits
Aside from being a technological "failsafe", hand writing essays also enforces better writing habits, which can help earn you better scores on your exams. While utilizing your laptop may seem "faster" or "better" than hand writing, that is not always the case.
Law exams are often very complex with their entire answer hinging upon one fact or one obscure legal principle; and Hand writers, unlike typists, are forced to completely analyze and outline their answer prior to writing a single word. While outlining is recommended for typists as well, I always heard many fingers furiously typing before I had even finished re-reading the question; the temptation to begin writing your answer is strong.
Hand Writing Is Not a Handicap
Many people believe that typing essay answers is better than hand writing answers because they believe typing is faster and because exam software allows you to go back and edit your answer.
First, hand writing is not as slow as many think. An experienced hand writer (or printer) can write up to 30 words per minute, which is not much slower than the average typing speeds.
Second, the ability to edit your answer is nice, but can also be a negative. For every few sentenced typed on a computer, there were invariably several hits of the delete button. I noticed many examinees would furiously type for a minute, stop, look at their answer in horror, and subsequently smash their delete key within inches of it's life. The moral to this story? Writing fast is of no use if you have not thought about your answer as a whole, or even your next sentence. Hand writing forces you into these good habits.
Even if you live in a state that allows laptop use during bar exams, and even if your laptop is brand new, any number of circumstances could put you in a position where your grade depends upon hand writing an exam. Additionally, as an added bonus, hand writing could also improve your writing skills. In order to be best prepared for your future exams, you should at least practice hand writing essays, if not begin hand writing all of your essays.