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What are some law school note-taking tips and shortcuts?

Here, we discuss some of our law school note-taking tips and shortcuts that have helped us and other law students! Taking notes is so important in law school. Your professors will test what they discuss in class. So, having good class notes to refer back to when you create your outlines is crucial.

If you are going to law school or already in law school, having a good plan of attack for your law school notes will be helpful! Here, we give you some great tips and shortcuts for law school note-taking. These are tips that will:

  • Help you be more effective when you take notes.
  • Save you time.
  • Help you take better class notes.

As time goes on, you will develop your own law school note-taking tips and shortcuts. But these are some that will get you started or that you can add to the current tips and shortcuts that you use.

law school note taking

Law school note-taking tips and shortcuts

Here are a few law school note-taking tips and shortcuts that our students find especially helpful!

1. Try taking notes by hand.

The absolute vast majority of students type their law school notes. And there are definite advantages to this—notably, you may be able to type faster than you can write. And, organizing notes is often easier.  However, there are advantages to handwriting too. These advantages have been reported in multiple studies. These are:

  • You are likely to retain more when you handwrite.
  • You will have a deeper understanding of the concepts because you are forced to think about what you are writing down (versus typing where it is easier to write down everything verbatim.
  • You are less likely to get distracted by social media, online shopping, or other websites.

Even if you are accustomed to, and comfortable with, typing your class notes, try taking notes by hand. You may be surprised at how beneficial you find it. Read more here about the pros and cons of typing vs. handwriting your class notes.

2. Use helpful abbreviations!

One way to save time as you take notes in law school is to abbreviate as you type or write. This helps you write more in a shorter time period.

A few abbreviations that may help you are the following:

  • Att’y = attorney
  • A = acceptance
  • bc = because
  • ct. = court
  • CL = common law
  • D = defendant
  • fed = federal
  • gov = Government
  • K = contract
  • L = lawyer
  • O = offer
  • P = plaintiff
  • pj = personal jurisdiction
  • jx = jurisdiction
  • S. ct. = Supreme Court
  • SoF = Statute of Frauds
  • SoL = statute of limitations
  • SMJ = subject-matter jurisdiction
  • W = witness

You will no doubt come up with your own for specific abbreviations as you get more experience with law school note-taking. But, remember that your notes are for you so as long as they make sense to you, you are all set!

3. Color-code your outlines. 

Relatedly, some students also find it helpful to color-code notes—e.g., put the rule in red font, case notes in blue font, hypotheticals in green font, etc. This makes it easier to go back and find what you need from your notes.

4. Use text expander!

If you constantly say phrases like “smj” but would rather your notes look (and read) better, you can download a program like textexpander or something similar. This will automatically change “smj” into “subject-matter jurisdiction” (or whatever you tell it to turn the abbreviation to!) every time you type the abbreviation. You can constantly change and update the snippets to reflect your current level of note-taking. There also is an option on Word to find and replace text, so at the end of your note-taking, you can search for all the “smj”s and it will replace them with “subject-matter jurisdiction.”

5. Write down hypos from class. 

Many people put their pencils down or stop typing when a professor asks hypos. But hypos serve as illustrations of the trickier points of law. So, instead of failing to take notes while hypos are being discussed, we recommend you write these hypos down! You can write them in a different color pen/font, or indicate they are hypos with an asterisk or by using italicized font, etc. This will help them stand out in your law school class notes! This is one of our favorite law school note-taking tips because you can go back and quiz yourself using the hypos later.

6. Don’t write down every fact of every case.

Cases are important in that they illustrate the rule. If you find your law school class notes are several pages long, mostly filled with the facts of cases, it may be time to step back and see if you really need all of those facts. If you are writing down the procedural history (and you are not in a civil procedure class) or every date/fact, you may want to learn how to pare down your law school class notes to only include the most important facts! This will make your class notes more useful and easier to reflect back on.

7. Try perusing an outline from a past student before or during class. 

If you have any outlines or class notes from past students that have taken the class you are in with the same professor, you may find it helpful to review this outline before class or during class. This is especially true if you have a professor who is hard to follow. Seeing how other students have structured their notes and outlines can be very helpful for following along in class and making sure you are making note of the key points.

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