Law School Outline Tips and Template: Law school has begun – you are meeting new people, taking new classes, and learning a different approach to studying. You’ve most likely been told to create an outline for each of your classes to help you synthesize everything you are learning. This can be a daunting task in the beginning. Below are some tips for creating a useful law school outline. We also have a law school outline template for you to review, pictured below.
Law School Outline Template:
Law School Outline Tips:
1. Organize the outline based on your professor’s syllabus.
When your professor distributes the syllabus for the class use it to create the skeleton of your outline. The syllabus will probably be divided into topics and subtopics. This will help you to see the larger roadmap that all the details fit into. Once you have created the skeleton outline, turn to your class notes and start adding information under the appropriate topics. Remember that your outline should be a consolidated version of what you learned in class (i.e., your outline should not be as long as your class notes!).
If you notice the template above, (d) and (e) were both sections in the syllabus. Many times, students use the syllabus headings as headings in their law school outlines.
2. Do not include full case briefs in your outline.
Many students make the mistake of including too much information about the cases they read in their outlines. Unless your professor tells you differently, do not place emphasis on the detailed facts of the cases. Do not include lengthy quotations or copy and paste your case briefs into your outline. You want to prioritize the holdings of cases and any nuances or exceptions to the general rule.
In most classes, you can excel on the law school final exams without citing one case (or with being familiar with a very minimal number of cases — like four or five). 99.9 percent of law school exams do not test cases!!
3. Make sure you correctly state the black letter law and any areas of ambiguity.
State the black letter law in a way that you will be able to memorize it. Do not spend time including lengthy passages from cases. If you find that you did not understand a particular concept, it is worth it to consult commercial study aids.
It is equally important to clearly state when jurisdictions follow multiple approaches that lead to differing outcomes (e.g., common law versus the modern rule). Keep in mind that the purpose of the outline is to help you understand and memorize information. Use your outline as you begin to do practice tests and see whether the outline helps you with issue spotting a fact pattern and leads you to the correct answer.
4. Include hypotheticals that your professor uses to explain difficult concepts.
If your professor gives you hypotheticals to explain an issue you should include them in your outline. It will help you to see how the law is applied to a particular set of facts. Additionally, professors often draw upon variations of these hypotheticals when they create facts patterns for law school exams.
Similarly, pay attention to whether your professor has any particular area of interest or whether she uses certain phrases regularly. Include these in your outline because it is highly likely that they will show up on an exam.
5. Include issue checklists and flow-charts to help you distill complex areas of law (if it helps you).
Some areas of law are quite complex. If you are better able to process information by creating tables, checklists or flow-charts, then take the time to do so! These techniques will help you map out the connections between ideas. Flowcharts are particularly useful if you are able to pose questions with “yes” or “no” answers to reach a particular conclusion. Issue checklists are useful if, for example, a court uses a multi-factor balancing test to reach its decision. Turn these factors into a list of questions to help you approach similar fact patterns.
If you are wondering how to incorporate law school diagrams into your outline, please check out this post!
Looking for more help?
If you are looking for more outlining posts, we have an in-depth guide on how to outline here, as well as a very good post on how to learn your law school outlines. We recommend you look at both! If you are looking for more law school tips, we have several law school posts here! We have a post on five tips for starting law school and a lengthy and wonderful post on how to succeed in law school.
If you need help outlining or want someone to tell you if you are on the right track, please check out our law school tutoring services. We have helped many students succeed in law school (and succeed in and transfer to, prestigious law schools, such as the University of Michigan Law School, Cornell Law School, Duke Law School, among others).
This post was written by our law school tutor, Christine, who has helped several students succeed in law school and on the bar exam!
Ms. Ashley Heidemann graduated as the number 1 law student out of over 200 students in her class of 2011 at Wayne State University. She now works as a tutor for law students and the bar exam. She also offers a Law School Preparatory Course for students interested in learning the skills necessary to achieve a high GPA in law school.