[ Kathryn Pope, 2023 Law Graduate at the University of Florida Levin College of Law ]
Hack #1: Talk to your professor
This will be your greatest asset throughout the semester, especially when preparing your Civil Procedure outline and other course outlines for final exams. With each class, you are learning how to take your professor’s specific exam. While there is a level of uniformity among law schools across the country, with each class – in this situation, Civil Procedure – you are preparing to take an exam developed by your professor. Speaking with your professor can illuminate potential blind spots that you did not even know existed.
For example, your professor might tell you that he or she wants you to pay attention to the “Notes and Questions” sections in your casebook. Others may say that you should only focus on material from those sections that the professor highlights in class. As you continue throughout your semester, you should be thinking about how your professor structures hypotheticals, which can be inferred through in-class discussion.
When I take notes in class, I prefer to type my notes and put my professor’s comments in purple and student comments in blue. By using a color-coded system, I can put key aspects of the lecture into my outline. Scheduling an office hour’s appointment, whether that’s via Zoom or another platform, is a great way to develop a relationship with your professor during a time when face-to-face interaction is limited. If you are a shy person, email is an excellent alternative to asking questions that you may not feel comfortable raising in class or over Zoom.
Lastly, if it is not already stated on your syllabus, ask your professor if he or she recommends any supplemental resources to help you throughout the semester.
Hack #2: Ask upper level students
Upper level students are a great resource to gain general advice and receive old(er) outlines, as well as access to outlines in the university’s outline bank — if your school has this resource. For Civil Procedure specifically, many of the topics are uniform across professors.
One thing to keep in mind when looking at outlines is that many schools opted to go virtual last semester in light of COVID-19. If you have a Civil Procedure outline from the previous semester, remember that if the school went pass/fail, this might not be the most comprehensive resource. When looking at outlines from older students, make sure that you are still actively outlining and merely using the pre-made outline as a supplement to cross-reference your own.
Not only can older/upper-level students share helpful Civil Procedure outlines, they can be a great resource to discuss a time frame for outlining throughout the semester.
Hack #3: Align with class teachings
The more specific the outline is to your class, the better. This means that a more recent outline from your same professor would be ideal. Professors often have a methodical technique for teaching, especially if they have been teaching the same course for many years. I would recommend gathering multiple outlines from older students and scanning through them to see which outline appears to mirror your lecture and in-class notes the closest.
Hack #4: Bookmark BARBRI.com
As I began my Civil Procedure outline, I found the BARBRI website invaluable for providing advice on how to best condense my casebook and in-class notes into a comprehensive outline. I agree with BARBRI’s view that the critical importance of outlining is the process. When you outline, it forces you to consider what information is essential, what information is extraneous and what areas you need to review or ask clarifying questions about to your professor. BARBRI’s outlining tips also provided me with a comprehensive breakdown of what I should be putting into my outline:
• the rules from the cases you study,
• your summarized class notes,
• any other material that the professor has brought into discussions or alluded to in lectures.
I believe that it is critical to put your professor’s hypotheticals into your outline, like BARBRI suggested, because it illuminates areas of interest your professor may have, more examples of topic areas and could potentially be a portion of the final exam. With your Civil Procedure outline, I believe that it is especially important to be diligent. For example, if you do not understand personal jurisdiction, it will further complicate the rest of the semester.
Hack #5: Revisit BARBRI Law Preview
I completed the BARBRI Law Preview course virtually last summer and found it to be a tremendous resource in getting me ready for the law school climate. Law Preview spends a lot of time breaking down the mystique of outlining. The most helpful tips that I still use are condensing my casebook and in-class notes within the hour after my Civil Procedure class and outlining after a natural break occurs in topics. By condensing my notes after class, the material and lecture are still fresh in my mind. I have found that it is faster than trying to condense my notes days after when I do not remember the specifics of the discussion. By outlining when you finish a topic (e.g., specific jurisdiction), it allows you to begin to see the forest for the trees and understand the direction of the course.
Hack #6: Use BARBRI 1L Mastery
I learned about this resource through Law Preview and have found it incredibly helpful – in particular for my Civil Procedure outline. BARBRI 1L Mastery has video lectures for critical topics discussed in Civil Procedure and helped me understand topics such as the competing Justices views of purposeful availment, as well as personal jurisdiction. In the last month of law school, I watched the videos as supplements to my casebook notes and in-class lecture notes. I then condensed those notes and looked at the outlines I received from students along with the 1L Mastery outline to then create my own. All of those tools that 1L Mastery provides together create a very comprehensive resource. Also, if you are a multi-tasker like I am, you can watch the lecture videos while getting ready in the morning, and it allows you to accomplish more than one task.
Hack #7: Tap into school resources
UF Law uses LexisNexis as one of its research platforms and I have found it incredibly helpful to use the database to compare my case brief with the case brief found there. Another great resource is to talk to your Legal Writing Professor about resources that he or she would recommend. Some textbooks also have a code inside the front cover that provides a code to access online resources. This can be a nice tool as you are developing your outlines and it is specific to your textbook.
Hack #8: Know you’re not alone
Outlining can appear quite daunting at first. Especially if you find completed outlines that are 60-100 pages. The best advice I received from Law Preview was to break it down into manageable parts. Having the completed outline is a tremendous resource, but it is also important to know when to use it. For example, my class has only discussed through general jurisdiction, so I do not need to be looking at sections of the outline that our course will not discuss until October.
For additional information and access to the resources – especially for that Civil Procedure outline – be sure to visit the BARBRI website often. Happy outlining!