Most people take it for granted that a lawyer should be meticulous, detailed-oriented and organized. But what many fail to realize is that great lawyers are also creative thinkers who are resourceful and innovative. These same qualities are also important in law school, and not just in terms of crafting original and interesting legal arguments. You can also get creative in how you manage your study materials. Try the suggestions below for some creative ways to organize your study material and simplify your study process.
Scan Your Textbook
Even though we live in a digital world, most law school textbooks are not available to law students as digital copies. But that problem can be easily solved with a little creativity and a trip to the copy shop. If you’ve purchased (not rented) your textbook, you can have a copy shop remove the binding and scan the textbook into a PDF document. Having an electronic version of the book will allow you to make neat, organized margin notes and comments using an editing software. It will also make your textbook easier to transport and easier to access – instead of lugging an 800-page book around you can simply pull it up on your laptop whenever you need to get some reading done. After scanning the book, consider having it three-whole punched and placed into a binder so that when you do need to reference a hard copy, it’s easy to flip through and has nice, lay-flat pages.
Bind Your Outline
You should always (always!) draft your own outline for each class because it will be your primary study aid when preparing for finals. You’ll probably be reviewing your outline quite a bit during finals week, so to make paging through it a little simpler, print it out on thick card stock and have it spiral bound. Having quick, easy access to all sections of your outline is especially important if you have an open book exam that permits use of your outline. When you bind your outline, make sure your attack plan or issue checklist is included at the very front, along with any other graphic organizers or flow charts you’ve made. If you really want to get fancy, put a laminate cover and backing on it and you’ll have your very own supplement personally tailored to your class and your professor.
Try Big Notecards
A logical, organized outline is essential to law school exam success, but it’s not the only study tool that you should make. When the material lends itself to it, you may find it helpful to organize the concepts in tables, diagrams, and flowcharts. Creating graphic organizers will not only stave off some of the monotony of reading through your outline for the hundredth time, but having a more visual representation of the material will also help you memorize it. You can definitely get creative with the type of graphic organizers you make, but one in particular that you should try is the big notecard. Buy a large poster board for each major concept you covered that semester (so, for example, in Civ Pro get one for personal jurisdiction and one for subject matter jurisdiction, or in Torts get one for intentional torts and one for negligence). Then, consolidate the material you need to know for that concept on the notecard in a way that’s easy to read and easy to follow. Writing freehand on a large notecard allows you to organize the material in more unique ways than when drafting your outline on a word processor, and the large, more visual representation of the material will help with comprehension and retention of the information.
There’s no reason why your notes need to be monochromatic and boring. Bust out your highlighters or change the font color on your laptop so you can color code your textbook and your notes to correspond to a system that you’ve created. Many people like to highlight the different parts of each case (issue, rule, analysis, holding, etc.) to make them easy to refer back to during class, but you can also color code your notes or outline to make the rules, exceptions, and case examples stand out from one another. Color coding can also help you improve your writing structure when drafting answers to practice problems: designate each letter of IRAC as a different color, and write your answers to practice essay problems using the designated color for each sentence or section. If you look back at your answer and you’re missing a color, or your colors are out of order, you’ll know you need to focus on improving your writing structure and organization.
Creativity and resourcefulness are often overlooked skills in the legal profession, but possessing these attributes can really set you apart, so start fostering your creativity now! Using creative organizational and study techniques not only makes your life simpler, but it can also make you more successful!
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- Exam Prep Made Simple: Organize Your Thoughts
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