How to create a law school attack outline

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You have most likely done an outline (or a few) for your classes. Law school outlines help you synthesize and mesh your notes from class and readings into an organized structure so you can dial in the relevant principles of the law in your own words. Outlines are a must in law school. However, sometimes what will really benefit you for your exam studies is an ‘attack’ outline.

Whether you are unfamiliar with what an attack outline is, are just starting out with your outlining or want to make sure you’re on the right track, we’ve got you covered. Let’s start with some outline basics.

Law school outline types

There are a few types of outlines you should be familiar with, and some students refer to these types of outlines by different names. Here’s an overview of the various outline types:

  • Comprehensive or main outline: This is your large, fully robust outline that’s anywhere in the general range of 40 to 100+ pages, depending on the subject.
  • Condensed or shortened outline: As the name indicates, this is a condensed version of your larger outline that typically runs about one-fourth the length of your comprehensive outline.
  • Attack outline: This outline can take a couple of forms but think of it as a very short outline (as little as one page or up to about 10% of your comprehensive outline). This is the outline worth memorizing because it’s considered a checklist or an attack approach of what you need to know for your exam.

Starting the outlining process

Before you start your attack outline, you’ll want to complete your main outline and run through it a few times. Get comfortable with the key topics and any areas you struggle with, as this will be the basis for your attack outline.

Generally, you will want to use your case briefs, class notes, course textbook and a commercial outline (for reference purposes only) to create your main outline. Because everyone learns differently, using another student’s outline or a commercial one won’t be as effective as creating your own (but know that using another student’s or a pre-created outline to help you fill in substantive gaps can really help you flush out your outline). Remember, the whole point of outlining is to grapple with the material to help you learn it. If all the information is already in front of you, you won’t grasp it.

Condensing your outline

Once you get more comfortable with the material, you might try to shorten your outline down to a condensed version. This can include abbreviated phrases or quick sentences that help you remember the case and the rule. This doesn’t lay out all of the facts and material that you’d have contained in your main outline. At this stage where you have a condensed outline, you may find that you don’t need an attack outline and can start preparing for finals.

However, if you find a condensed outline is still too long or perhaps, you’re having trouble with a specific topic, creating an attack outline is the way to go. Your attack outline will most likely be geared toward a particular subtopic or issue (think personal jurisdiction or formation of a contract) that consists of shorter phrases (sometimes called triggers) to help guide you on how to approach, or attack, that specific issue. An attack outline can vary based on your learning style, but often times this will consist of a decision tree or checklist that you will think of as you navigate through an exam question.

What to include in your attack outline

First and foremost, your attack outline should cater to you and your needs. Students often use an attack outline to self-test their longer outline and ensure that they are mastering the right material. Your attack outline can serve as a way to issue spot, organize your thoughts and have a checklist for each rule.

For example, if a given tort is made up of six elements, you can use those elements as your checklist for that rule. Subjects with multiple elements or exceptions to a rule work best with this checklist format.

You can also take the approach of including hypos, diagrams or flow charts within your attack outline that pull the main concepts or rules into the outline. It’s also good practice to include the page number in your comprehensive outline with each concept for your attack so you know where you can find more in-depth information on each topic.

How to study from your attack outline

Many students utilize attack outlines for final exam preparation but try to begin the process of creating all of your outlines early in the semester. This will give you time to feel comfortable with your comprehensive outline so you can pull out what you need for your more-specific attack outline. When exam time comes, your attack outline’s “checklist” of issues will be second nature to you.

Can’t decide where to start?

If you’re looking for ways to flush out your larger outlines before you start your attack outlines, BARBRI 1L Mastery is here for you. This comprehensive study tool includes lectures, practice questions and detailed course outlines for all your required 1L courses. BARBRI 1L Mastery is extremely useful for filling in substantive gaps as you work through your own outlines.

Best of luck as you begin attacking those outlines!

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