Outlines, Outlines, Outlines


Outline—A list of the key items in a document or plan, presented in the order they appear in the main document, or in some other logical sequence."

-Black’s Law Dictionary

Less than one month and I can officially say that I’m a third of the way done with law school.  What???  I honestly cannot believe how fast my first year went and how soon I will actually be a lawyer.  But with the end of the semester comes the dreaded end of semester finals.  And with finals comes writing outlines, memorizing outlines, working on practice problems, etc.  As I said in my post here on my review of last semester, I only started my outlines during reading week, which was definitely not the best study plan.  This semester, I definitely started on them earlier, but not as early as I resolved to do so earlier this year. 

My first step when it comes to outlining is gathering all of the materials I need to make my outline, which include my casebook (of course), my class syllabus, my class notes, any PowerPoints from class or TA sessions, outlines from older students, and my Barbri outline book.  I really use the other outline sources sparsely and only after I outline that particular section myself.  It’s more of a check to make sure that I have the important information in my own outline.

To actually begin my outline, I like to use the table of contents from my casebook and my syllabus to make the framework for my outline.  This part of the outline really depends on how you like to organize the material from your class.  I put a major focus on the rules and definitions from the course, with the cases and their facts as supplemental information to these rules. As you can see below, I use the chapter titles as my main heading and the section titles as the headings below the main heading.

     I.   Main Heading
A.    Subheading 1
1. …Rule from common law, Restatement, or other statutory provision
a.    Case Name – description of the facts and the holding about the case
b.    Nuances about the rule; exceptions, sub-rules, examples, etc.
2.   Term – definition of the term
a.    Information regarding that term
b.    Examples about the term
B.    Subheading 2

Filling in the information below the headings is where my notes, casebook, and any PowerPoints come in.  In my post about taking notes in class, I mentioned that after going over every case in class, I write out a general rule from the case.  These rules are what go under each of the subheadings, and I include the facts and eventual holding of the case in a sub-point under the rule.  I also put in any exceptions to the rule included in the case or examples of the definitions.  I also look to my textbook for any note cases or other important points written in the textbook that my professor didn’t go over in class or something I thought was obvious during class.  Trust me, sometimes when you are going over all of the information included in an outline for an exam, you blank on things you would have thought were so obvious before.  Law school makes you rethink everything.

As I mentioned previously, I then like to compare my outline to my supplemental outlines just to make sure I included all of the important information about each topic.  I also like looking at these other outlines because they can sometimes articulate a rule in a different way than I would have, but in a way that makes more sense to me than the way I did. 

My biggest advice when it comes to outlining is be patient.  It’s easy to take the simple step of just completely relying on someone else’s outline, but that doesn’t really serve you in the way an outline should.  Outlining really makes sure that you understand the material and points out information that you might not be as sure about.  Additionally, something may have changed since the other outline was made.  It also might take a while to write out an outline for an entire class, but just remember you’re condensing information from an entire semester of lectures into a short (if you count ~25 pages to be short), condensed version of the course.

Good luck with your outlining and hopefully everything is wrapping up nicely in your semester!

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