When is an Outline Too Long?
Outlines can definitely be too long. What is too long? 100 pages is too long.
Most law schools have at least one outline floating around that is a transcript of every word ever spoken by a professor. Is that the perfect outline? Generally speaking, no.
But, Lee, it’s a complete transcript of the course! Everything I need to know is in there, right?
Well, sort of.
But what are you going to do with that information? Can you memorize a 100-page outline? Can you look at that outline and give clear statements of black letter law? Does it help you structure your legal analysis? Typically, the answer to those questions is “no.”
Then what good is that outline to you?
How Did the Myth of the Perfect 100+ Page Outline Originate?
I think the age of computers has changed the idea of what the “outline” should be. Back in the day when my parents were in law school, they typed out outlines on a typewriter or wrote them out by hand.
Would you type a transcript of a class on a typewriter? I don’t think so!
Computers have made it all too easy though to have incredibly detailed and formal outlines, but I don’t think they are doing us any favors.
How Long Should Your Outlines Be?
So, how long should your outlines be?
An outline should be as long as necessary (and this depends on the class).
I can’t give you an exact length, but here’s a guideline: When an outline holds only pertinent information, it doesn’t get too long.
What do I mean by “pertinent information”?
- Black letter law
- Attack plans
- Case references
Do Case Briefs Go in the Outline?
“But, Lee, should I put my case briefs in my outline?” No! “Why not?” Because they are already in your study materials!
When you make an outline, it is in addition to the other study materials you have (for example, case briefs and class notes).
You do not need to throw all of that away. Can’t remember the facts of Lawrence v. Texas? That’s okay! You can go back to your case brief and review. Or you can check your class notes, or even the case itself.
But re-typing (or even worse — copying and pasting) that information into your outline is not going to do you any favors.
You’ll just end up overwhelmed and confused. Remember that the point is to LEARN THE LAW, not to memorize the detailed facts of specific cases.
You have to move from cases, to understanding, to application.
Keeping your outlines focused helps with this process!
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Want more outlining tips? Check out the next two parts of this series:
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