What is outlining? Outlining is the process of organizing and condensing all of the material that you learn over the semester into one single, manageable document that you are able to commit to memory. Outlining is an important skill to have in law school. You will be expected to make an outline for each of your core substantive law school courses.
Why outline? You will never have to hand in your outlines and you will not be graded on them. But they are invaluable tools to help you learn everything you need to know in law school. Furthermore, some of your professors may allow you to consult your outlines on your exams so it is nice to have them handy to refer to. Thus, it is important to make a law school outline for each of your law school courses. We will explain how to make a law school outline in this post.
What are some tips for outlining?
1. Make your own outlines. Do not substitute a commercial outline or another student’s outline for your own. Even if you manage to get a great outline from their friend in their second year of law school…still make your own! This does not mean that you can’t consult other outlines or other sources – but it’s best to make your own outlines because this is how you truly learn and internalize the material.
2. Organize your outline around concepts – not cases. If you get too caught up in the details of cases in law school, I recommend thinking about them like you’d think about story problems in Math. When you took Math in college or high school, you did not memorize all of the story problems and obsess over the story problems. You probably simply used the story problems as a tool to help you understand mathematical principals.
It is the same with cases. Cases merely illustrate the law. They illustrate the principals of the law, but ultimately it is the legal principals that you want to know. Thus, you should organize your outline around legal principals. Not cases. You can still include cases in your outline (some students do, some don’t!) but cases should not be your focus. They are merely the “story problems” that are helping you learn the legal principals you have to know to do well on your law school exams.
3. Don’t simply stamp “OUTLINE” onto your class notes. It is a very good idea to use – and heavily rely on – your class notes when you create your outline. However, your class notes are way too long and unorganized to constitute an outline. And writing “Outline” on the top of them does not magically transform them into an outline! If you do this, you are skipping out on the crucial process of organizing and condensing the material into something that your brain can learn and understand.
4. Make your law school outlines early on. There is no point in starting late in the game. Instead, start outlining early! The earlier you start, the more time you will have to organize and learn the material. Also, the earlier you start, the earlier you will learn how to make a law school outline. You will be ahead of the game.
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