3 Steps to Create a Shell Outline

GUEST BLOG Stephanie Baldwin, 1L at the University of Arizona

One of the major things I decided to implement much earlier this semester was outlining earlier and reviewing it frequently. I struggled with this last semester and by midterms I discovered what I should have done!

The answer for me was creating a “shell” outline. Though, I learned about this in my BARBRI Law Preview class, I didn’t think this was going to work for me. I was I wrong! Using this method, last year, right before midterms was so helpful. I committed to making sure that I did it this semester before I hit week 4. The followers of @The1LLife were interested in the process so here it is. How you create a shell outline in 3 pretty easy steps.

First, let me explain that a “shell outline” is an outline that combines the casebook table of contents (which are usually organized by topic and cases) and your professor’s outline. The goal of a “shell outline” is to have each case and major topic that covers from the beginning to the end of the course. Yes, I am talking about creating an outline now that will go to the end of the class.

So instead of creating an outline as you go, with a “shell outline” you fill it in as you go. The advantage of this is that everything is well organized. You don’t have to think about what to call each area, as it is already done for you. Since you are just filling in the details as you go, it makes it much easier to keep your notes organized. If you use the headings feature you can create an attack and concise outline at the same time, but we will talk about using the heading feature at a different time.

Now is the perfect time to create your shell outline and fill it in! Here is how to get started:

Step 1 – Gather the Required Materials

To do this, you will need your professors course outline and your casebook table of contents. I have most of my books in a digital format, so this is easy for me to copy and paste from. If you do not have digital versions, never fear. You simply need to go to the publisher of your textbook and look for the index, they often supply this on the student resources page. If you can’t find it there, you can just google it. For Aspen published book, you will usually find this on the companion website. Here is the master list: http://www.aspenlawschool.com/

Shell Outline

Step 2 – Merge the Documents

The next step is to merge your professors outline and the casebook table of contents together. I prefer to have the table of contents from the casebook to be the “base” of the outline. I will usually copy and paste this either from the digital casebook or from the index pdf into a google doc or word doc. Then copy and paste the headers from the professors course outline. This will provide you a document that has all of the major headers from the textbook and your professor, plus all of the cases. This will take some time, but as you go through the professor’s outline, you can delete cases you will skip and sections of the casebook you will not cover.

Step 3 – Begin Filling in the Shell Outline

Voila! The shell outline has not been created through the end of the semester! Now the final step is to start filling in your notes from the previous weeks. For cases, be sure to note the Rule, Determinative Facts and any other information your professor likes you to know. Once you have caught the outline up, you can use this shell outline to take notes the rest of the semester. 

If you follow this method, you will have an outline that has every major case, organized by topic in a way that matches the structure your professor intended. You can also organize the outline using various headings, so you can also create an attack outline as you go. 

If you have any questions about this you can reach me @The1LLife on Twitter and Instagram