Normally, I don’t write about my own law school experience, but in this case I think it appropriate. During my first year of law school my study group was offered another student’s course outline. Thinking it would save us a bunch of time we said sure, expecting it would save us a ton of time preparing for finals, but failed to create our own.
We got the outlines a few weeks before finals and realized our mistake. The outlines were half-a-page of broad legal concepts and key words. To say we were screwed was an understatement.
Fast-forward to my second year of law school, I had learned from my mistakes and was creating my own outlines that fit my specific needs (which also drastically increased my GPA). I used the following approach:
- Place the course syllabus into a word document as a starting point
- Brief All Cases Ahead of Class and place them in the appropriate portion of the syllabus
- During Class type notes directly into the course outline
- After class, consolidate and clean up the outline.
I followed this process for each of my classes. The end result was on average a 190 – 250 page document for each class. From there, it was a matter of consolidating the material into a 10-15 page outline to prep for finals.
What should your course outline include?
Your course outline should include the following:
- The primary legal principles you are learning (think of a broad rule of law)
- Summaries of each of the cases
- Additional information you learned during the class
- Any additional examples or hypothetical.
How Should You Organize Your Outline?
You should organize your outline based on the professor’s syllabus. Include any necessary information. Let’s use Professor Talley’s Contracts Course Syllabus from 2009 as an example (Found here: https://www.law.berkeley.edu/php-programs/courses/fileDL.php?fID=409).
He has the syllabus broken down into three parts (across 8 pages!):
- Remedies for Breach of Contract
- Forming a Contract
- Obligations and Breach
Each of these three sections has a topic to be covered, along with legal principles being covered. For example, Part 1: Remedies for Breach of Contract has a section on Money Damages. This is further broken down as follows:
- Distinguishing Expectation and Reliance Interests.
- Market Measures, “Multiple Markets” Problems, and Cost versus Diminution;
- Limitations on Expectation Damages (and sometimes Reliance)
- Lost Volume Sellers/Buyers
- Alternative forms of monetary relief
- Alternative Money Damages
- Contracting around Contract law: Stipulated damages, Damages limitations, and Arbitration provisions
Each of the above sections includes supporting cases that cover these specific legal principles. As such, you can actually build in full case summaries in IRAC form (Issue Rule Application Conclusion) into your course outline.
When Should You Start Outlining?
Start outlining immediately! Some people wait until the end of the semester to begin their outline but don’t wait. Use your time in class to understand the materials, and then input it into your outline.
What do you Do When Your Outline is Over 100 pages!?
Towards the end of the semester, you will find that your outline will likely be quite large. That is fine. The next step is consolidating and distilling down all the information into a much smaller document. One that you can you can easily process.