The best time to start outlining your law school courses is when your law professors completes discussion in class of the first topic listed on the syllabus. Usually, this occurs sometime between the third and fourth week of law school.
What if the class syllabus does not contain topics, only page numbers for reading? In that case, look at the detailed table of contents in your casebook. When your professor has finished covering a topic listed in your casebook, it is time to start outlining.
Why not just wait until the end of your course or the second half of the course to start outlining? Three reasons.
First, the process of trying to outline a legal topic will force you to discover whether or not you understand that legal topic. You may discover that you do not understand a legal topic, or are not sure about a particular legal rule. If this is the case, you have plenty of time to seek help with understanding the legal rule, and plenty of time to clear up any confusion of lack of understanding on your part. Starting your course outlines early in the semester also ensures that you will be able to allocate sufficient time to each legal rule or legal topic that is challenging for you.
Imagine what would happen if you started your outlines toward the end of the semester and then discovered that there were a number of legal topics that were unclear to you. Later in the semester, there will be less time to devote to figuring out each legal topic that is challenging for you, and you risk not having enough time to fully understand the topics that are challenging for you. If you don’t fully understand the legal topics your law professor has covered, you face a substantial risk of getting lower grades on your law school exams than you could have achieved if you outlined your courses throughout the semester. You also put yourself at greater risk of exhaustion and burnout if you delay outlining your courses until the later in the semester and have to do complete outlines for multiple courses all at once. In addition, if you are still doing extensive outlining towards the end of the semester, you will have less time to do practice exams. This will also negatively affect your grades, because doing a number of practice exams for each course is one of the keys to consistently getting good grades.
Chances are you will get more help from your law professors if you approach them early in the semester. Law professors usually have lots of free time in their office hours early in the semester, so your law professor will most likely be able to be generous with his or her time if you have a question. Toward the end of the semester, when many students start getting anxious about exams, there may be a long line to get in to see your law professor. Even if you do get in to see your law professor at the end of the semester, he or she will not have as much time to answer your questions because so many students are seeking help at the same time.
Doing a complete and concise outline will ensure you receive the highest grades you are capable of on law school exams!
Outlining a law school course forces you to do several things that you will need to do when you take a law school exam. First, outlining forces you to identify and clearly state the legal rules your professor covered. This will save you lots of time on the actual exam because you already have a good statement of the relevant rule in your head and won’t have to sit there during the exam and think, “Negligence. What’s the rule on negligence?” If you have to spend time working out what the rule is for a particular issue on a law school exam, you are not going to be able to finish the exam on time, and you will lose points for issues you did not have time to cover because you were trying to put together a statement of the relevant rule.
Second, outlining a law school class forces you determine how a particular area of law is structured. During the process of outlining, you are forced to put the legal rules in an area of law in some kind of order. Which issues are should you consider first? Which rules are dependent on each other, and which rules are totally independent from other rules? Because outlining forces you to consider the role of each rule in a particular area of law, you will expect to see certain issues clumped together on a law school exam and will be less likely to miss an issue.
I hope you are now convinced that outlining your law school courses, and outlining them early, is a key to success in law school. For more help with outlining, check out our blog entry on how long an outline should be. If you are uncertain about the relationship between your own personal outline and commercial outlines, you may find our podcast on the role of commercial supplements helpful.
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And check out these helpful posts:
- Tackling Outlining Mid-Semester
- Law School Outlining: Can Your Outline Be Too Long?
- Need Help Outlining for Law School Finals?
- How to Make a Useful Law School Outline
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