Outlining in law school is one method that will prepare you for your law school exams. This article discusses in detail how to proceed through the outlining process in a manner that will have you knowing and understanding the material. First, be sure to attend class and try not to miss any classes. You should listen to your professor and take notes in detail. If you have a laptop, that may help you significantly. Use your laptop to essentially prepare a “transcript” of your classes. Or, if you are not a fast typer, and your professor approves, you may want to actually tape the class. The detailed class notes you take down will be the beginning of your outline.
In addition, your class syllabus will list all the assigned reading for your particular class. Be sure to read all the reading assignments on time, and before you have class on that topic. If you do this, you will get more out of the class. Also, while you are reading, highlight sentences and paragraphs that appear important to your understanding. Typically, the important things discussed in the textbook are when it details black-letter law in the subject area. After you have attended class and have put together the class notes “skeleton,” review your text book and add the material to your outline. You should add these notes from your book highlights in logical places and subject areas that fit with your “skeleton” outline.
If you have attended class, read the book, and yet you still do not understand a certain area of the law (and this will happen), meet with your professor after class, or consult some friends or your study group. At this point, you may also wish to consult a commercial source, such as a commercial outline, treatise or hornbook. These commercial sources will help clarify matters when you do not understand, and may also assist you in the organization of your outline. After consulting these sources, add what you need to your outline for your understanding. In addition, another option is to speak with a student who has taken the course before from the same professor. Further, you may even be able to obtain an outline from a person who took the course before. However, make sure you are getting the outline in an “above board” fashion, and the person has no problems with giving it to you. Otherwise, you may be breaking your law school’s honor code and may face repercussions. Moreover, some law reviews have a library of outlines from different professors that you may be able to access.
Remember that your outline is a work-in-progress. The end product is what you will study to prepare for the exam. Thus, it really does not matter how it looks. The only thing that truly matters is that you understand the organization and what you have put together. Further, when you sit down to study for the exam, you will be amazed as to how much you already know and remember from going through this outlining process.
One other tip: don’t get caught up trying to be too precise in the beginning of the process – or even at the end for that matter – with your outline. The “outline” does not need to read in a traditional outline format with Roman numerals, letters and numbers. Instead, your outline can be effective even if it is just a mass of bullet points put together. The important thing is that you understand it, and it means something to you.