If you’ve survived at least a week of law school, you’ve likely heard of the dreaded law school outline. Law students across the country put an immense amount of time and effort into creating (or finding) the perfect one. But if you’re anything like I was as a 1L, you have no idea where to even begin creating an outline.
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What is an outline?
It’s hard to understand what an outline exactly is until you create and use one. That’s right, I said create your own outline. Essentially, it’s an organized document that contains only the relevant information from an entire course. It includes the black letter law, may include case information, and cuts out the classroom dialogue that won’t necessarily help you on a final exam.
Why is it important?
Law professors across the country facilitate class discussion using the Socratic method. If you haven’t been exposed to this yet, it is a method of getting to the heart of a matter [or rule of law] by asking questions. But as you’ve probably experienced by now, class discussions include more than just the rule of law. It can be difficult to discern from class notes what you need to know and what you don’t need to know for the final exam.
Creating an outline helps you consolidate and comprehend the relevant information from an entire semester. That way, you don’t have to sift through hundreds of pages of class notes as you prepare for your final exam.
Should I create my own outline?
There are varying views on whether it is best to create your own outline or use one created for you. From my experience, creating the outline is what makes them the most useful. Outlining is the process of going through your notes, organizing rules of law and other relevant information, and understanding how it all fits together.
You can have the holy grail of all outlines passed down to you or spend $100+ on a commercial outline, but this doesn’t mean you’ll understand the information. The process itself allows you to work through the material and start analyzing like a lawyer. Ultimately, this is what you’ll be called upon to do on the final exam.
That being said, many students work in study groups throughout law school. It can be equally beneficial to share outlines with your study group. You may find the way a classmate phrases or organizes something easier to understand. Just don’t be “that guy” in law school who takes outlines but doesn’t share your own!
When to start on them
Don’t start too soon or too late. If you start too soon, you won’t have sufficient material to actually go through. If you start too late, you’ll end up with an outline but no time to prepare for the final exam. It is recommended to organize your class notes into an outline format as soon as you have a good chunk of material to work with – after the first main section is covered or first few weeks is a good starting off point.
And remember, while having a beautifully bound and tabbed, color coded outline may seem like the most important thing in the world, knowing how to apply the law on a final exam is what really matters!
Whether you are about to take your first or your last law school exam, it never hurts to keep these tips in mind as you enter exam study time.