Outlining for Success in Law School

Okay, so what’s the deal with all the talk about “outlining” for your law school classes?  Let me tell you, the “deal” is that for most people, it is an absolute necessity to outline your course material to do well on exams.  Here are some general guidelines to follow in outlining your law school course material.

TIP # 1:  The outline should be “issue” and “rule” driven, not “case” driven.  What this means is that you should structure the outline around the topics/legal issues discussed in class, and then the rules should follow.  After the rules, cases and hypotheticals from class should supplement the rules.

TIP #2:  Write rule statements as a sentence, even when breaking rules into elements.  The idea here is that you should be able to take your rule statements and transfer the language directly to an essay exam.  By doing this, you should be able to focus more on analysis on the exam, and not have to think about how to express the rules.

TIP #3:  Don’t wait until the end of the semester to outline!  Pre-Outline before you attend class.  I find it helpful to read about the assigned topic in a commercial law outline or other supplemental source before and during my reading of the casebook.  If you take a few minutes to learn about the topic generally, before reading cases, you will likely be more efficient in extracting the rules from the cases when you read them.  Type a “pre-outline” of the material, and then supplement it with your notes from class. You can even add to your outline during class, while the material is fresh in your mind.   By pre-outlining you will probably have a better understanding of the material and therefore will be able to more accurately pick up on the more nuanced areas of the law that come up in class discussions.

I have found the above suggestions to be very helpful in my own study strategies, and I recommend them to any student who wants to improve his or her academic performance.


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