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Law School Time Savers – What Works and What Doesn’t

Law School Time Savers – What Works and What Doesn’t: The amount of work that is assigned in law school can seem overwhelming.  It is important to develop study habits that save time while also help you learn all the necessary material.  There are a lot of short cuts out there, but while some might help you get through the work quicker, they won’t put you in the best position to get the grades you want on the exam.  So which time savers work, and which ones don’t?

Law School Time Savers – What Works and What Doesn’t

1.Book briefing.

Book briefing absolutely works! Many law students start out by writing a separate case brief for each case that is assigned in their reading.  This might be feasible if you only had one class’s worth of reading to do each night.  Unfortunately that is not the case!  Stopping to fill in a case brief worksheet every time you come across a case is not an efficient use of your time.

A much better strategy is book briefing. Book briefing involves you marking up your textbook  so that you can immediately identify the critical parts of a case when asked.  Here is one way to do it: take out six different color highlighters and assign each one a different element of a case.  These elements are the case’s issue or question presented, the procedural posture (or its history in the lower courts), the facts and the arguments proposed by each side, the rule statements established in the case, the reasoning the court uses and its application of the rules to the facts, and the court’s ultimate holding.  As you’re reading a case for the first time, highlight the important sentences in the appropriate color.

This is a critical time saver as you will no longer have to stop reading to write or type out a detailed summary of the case before returning to the book.  Additionally, when a professor calls on in class and you need to immediately pick out the rule or the issue, you can easily find it!

2. Drafting your outline as the semester progresses.

This also absolutely works!  Too many times students leave all of their outlining for the end of the semester.  This leads to rushing through one of the most important keys to success in law school.  If you outline the material covered each week immediately, it will reinforce everything you just learned by making you think about it a second time. It also gives you extra time at the end of the semester to review and complete practice exams.  (One thing we do not recommend is simply taking all of your class notes into an outline – they are too long and unruly! Instead, take time each week to condense your class notes into a manageable outline.)

3. Using outlines created by third parties.

The last of the law school time savers we will review are third party outlines.  It is always useful to see if current or former students have outlines from subjects taught by your professor.  It is good if you aren’t sure if a class will be interesting, or what kind of material it will cover.  You can also read through a section of the outline just before you will be reading that material to give you a summary of what you are about to see.  Or maybe reading how a different person summarized a case will help you understand something you were struggling with.  This fresh perspective can be beneficial.  However, do not fall into the time saving trap of using someone else’s outline as your own on your exam.

You might think that using someone else’s outline in lieu of your own is excellent way to get through everything faster.  But in reality, it is not helping you actually LEARN the material.

Don’t underestimate the act of typing things out and organizing and condensing information yourself. This reinforces the material in your brain.  If you just read through someone else’s outline before the exam, you are far more likely to have to go flipping through it for the answers once you see the actual exam question.  And you absolutely don’t have time for this.  Finally, outlines produced commercially on a subject that don’t actually match your specific class have very little value.  You might read through them and encounter cases your professor doesn’t plan on covering, which might actually confuse you more.  The outline might present material in a different order, or emphasize different concepts.  Remember, the author of the outline is not grading your exams; your professor is.  Nothing can substitute for reading the material presented by your professor and then outlining it in your own words.

Overall, it is important to be efficient in your studying so that you can get through all the material.  But not every law school time saver will ultimately lead you to success.  Don’t cut too many corners – putting in the effort now will pay dividends in the end!

We hope these law school time savers help!

Laura Sigler, a  JD Advising bar exam essay grader, who graduated cum laude from Wayne State University Law School wrote this post.