How do you outline in law school?

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Outlining simply is synthesizing and meshing course material so you can access details quickly and digest concepts broadly. This process helps you master complex course material by organizing it into something meaningful and understandable for you … and, ultimately, to study for final exams.

A law school outline should consist of things like:

  • the rules from the cases you study
  • your summarized class notes
  • the professor’s hypotheticals
  • any other material that the professor has brought into discussions or alluded to in lectures

Almost every professor will tell you to start outlining early in the semester. Creating your own outline, rather than borrowing, is highly recommended. It may be time-consuming but expressing the relevant principles of the law in your own words will help your comprehension and understanding.

Here are our recommended steps:

#1 – Gather the facts

It’s difficult to build out a meaningful outline without some substance. First, gather all your foundational information in one place — including your case briefs, class notes, casebook, and maybe a study aid like your BARBRI outline or a handed-down outline.

#2 – Create a framework

The table of contents in your casebook already has the makings of an outline so you can easily use it as your foundation. It clearly lays out the major area of law, the related subtopics, and where all the cases fit into the discussion. If your professor teaches to a course syllabus rather than following a table of contents, lay out your outline using the syllabus in a similar manner.

#3 – State the rule, thoroughly

Add a clear and complete statement defining the rule of law (e.g., “Battery is ….”). Do this for each rule your professor laid out, a case you read, the information you gathered from a commercial outline or hornbook, or some other source. It’s critical that you understand and can clearly state the rule.

#4 – Break down the rule into individual elements

Next, break down the rule itself into its components or elements. Each element then needs to be defined (e.g., List out all four elements of battery and what they entail). The order should follow how the elements were laid out in class by your professor, or how they are tracked in your casebook. It will serve you well on your final exam to take the time to dissect each rule in this way. Remember, you’ll likely write about the element(s) of a rule, rather than the rule itself.

#5 – Follow each element with some hypotheticals

Law school exams are based on hypothetical situations. The more practice you have, the more comfortable you’ll be in applying law from cases to new hypotheticals when you encounter them in your exams. You’ll have to grapple with unusual fact patterns and be able to determine which rule should be used to solve the problem created by those facts. It can be helpful to practice illustrating how the rule works as a way to understand and learn the rules of law truly.

For additional note-taking and law school outlining tips, click here. 

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