I'm not sure why I felt inspired to write about this now that I'm NOT in class, but I did.
So, note-taking in class. There are many schools of thought about this - use a laptop; write your notes by hand; take notes before class, print them out, and hand write notes on the printout; write your outline before going to class and add class notes to that; etc. etc. I've even met a (successful) law school grad who never took notes AT ALL - they said their lack of note-taking completely freaked out their classmates, and I have to admit, if I were sitting next to someone who didn't take ANY notes, it would freak me out, too. (Although now that I think of it, that is kind of what a lot of the surfing-during-class types are doing... they just look busier!)
So far, I've taken notes on my laptop. The criticisms of using your laptop are multiple: that laptop users distract themselves by going online during class (and yes, I have done this... I do usually have my e-mail open so I can see what comes in, a bad habit I got into while waiting for responses to job applications the spring of 1L year; I don't generally surf, as in reading actual websites, but I will sometimes Google stuff that comes up in class if I'm confused or just want to know a little more). That laptops create a barrier between the professor and students (it's a weird dynamic to have all your students staring intently at a screen and not really looking at you, although the good professors I've had hold people's attention). And that laptop users tend to transcribe what's said rather than processing it, so they end up with reams of undifferentiated information they haven't really digested.
I do agree that laptops provide access to that evil source of distraction, the internet, and understand (maybe even approve of) the impulse to cut wireless to classrooms. While I like being able to Google something that confuses me, I don't do it enough for it really to justify having internet connectivity. And while I also agree that students manage to distract themselves without the internet, I think the level of distraction of doodling or writing a to-do list or the like can never rise to the level of reading sports scores or Facebooking and the like. (And if you don't have online connectivity on your laptop, you never run into the problem of clicking over to CNN to check the sport scores and having the website soundtrack roar into very loud life in the middle of class. Which has never happened to me, but did happen to someone I was in Torts with. And I'm quite sure almost all the rest of us responded by surreptitiously checking the volume on our own machines...)
The barrier thing also makes sense to me. I think it must be quite difficult for the professor to maintain as strong a sense of connection or engagement with their students when everyone's sitting staring intently at their computer screens. In fact, I don't use my laptop to take notes in seminars (15 students or less), because I feel like I should really be part of the conversation and participating in a way that's tough with a computer screen in front of me (and seminars at my school don't have final exams, so I don't need to use my notes to study at the end of the semester - more on this below).
But I don't buy the "transcription" argument, mostly because I've ALWAYS basically transcribed what I hear when taking notes, even when I was taking notes by hand. A friend of mine I TAed with in grad school always laughed because I took 2 pages of notes for every 1 page she took (and my handwriting is quite a bit smaller than hers). This is, for me, the way that notes work. It's not just about going back and being able to find things; I process the material by writing it, and if I write it ALL down, then I process ALL of it better. (I know people talk about this as part of the kinesthetic process of writing by hand, but for me, it seems to work with typing almost as well. I mean, I have had periods where I've been typing so much, that when I go to bed at night I think by mentally typing out words and phrases.)
Even if you do buy the transcription argument, though, for me, typing is still worth it, and here's the real reason why: I'm lazy. I can't take notes effectively on my reading before class (except in the margins of the book), because it takes soooooo daaaaaaaaammmmmmmn looooooooooooong. I just don't have the patience to do it. Plus, my "transcription" habit means that if I take notes as I do the reading, I just write down everything, and in that context, I find doing so incredibly unhelpful. While I probably should do the reading, then stop and take notes, I never seem to leave myself enough time to do so, and when I do, they never seem to be very helpful. So rather than getting the material written down before class, I use class time to get down what I should know.
Finally, I find writing down everything in class is a huge help for when I need to study at the end of the semester. The traditional law-school wisdom is that one must make an outline of the whole semester's notes in order to prepare for exams. But when I try to make out outline of my notes, I spend more time rearranging stuff and making it LOOK like an outline than actually learning what the notes say. And time, at the end of the semester, is precious. I end up wasting a lot of time and not learning stuff. What has worked better for me this year has been to take detailed notes, and try very hard to outline as I'm taking them - to organize them carefully under main principle, sub-principles, examples of sub-principles, and so on. And then at the end of the semester, I just print everything out and study from that.
I do kind of suspect I might absorb things somewhat better along the way if I had the discipline to write all my notes by hand. But I find hand-written notes extremely cumbersome when trying to study at the end of the semester - they're longer (just in terms of taking up space) than printed notes, they're messier because it's harder to edit and rearrange stuff, and I find it harder to read my own handwriting quickly (for instance, during an exam) than I do to read the printed word quickly. And while typing up hand-written notes would probably be a great way of reviewing and learning the material, I know myself, and I know that I wouldn't have/make the time to type up everything. (For perspective, my typed notes for classes often run around 100-120 pages. Hand-written notes might be shorter, but that's a lot of transcription.) I'm better off spending all my time learning the notes that I do have in the form I have them, than spending time getting the format perfect before I can sit down to learn the material.
Mind you, this is only what works for me. I'm not advocating this as "the" method for law school study, or even "a" method. I'm sure there are lots of problems with what I do, and also lots of reasons why it wouldn't work for other people. But since there tends to be quite a lot of debate about what law students need to do to succeed, and what role laptops should play, I thought I'd throw this out there.