Law school supplements are everywhere these days. There is an abundance of commercial outlines, canned briefs, readymade study aids, video lectures, and other resources that will purportedly help stressed law students understand the material. Whether it’s due to the increased availability of supplements, the ease of accessibility through the internet, or this generation’s unique learning style, it seems like more and more students are relying very heavily on supplements to get them through their reading, class, and final exams. Of course, law school supplements have been around for a long time – Seven L. Emanuel of Emanuel Law Outlines first started selling his handmade outlines when he was a law student in the mid-seventies! – and supplements can be a beneficial part of your study plan. But supplements have some serious flaws, and when you rely too heavily on these generic study aids, you risk hurting your chances for achieving your full academic potential.
How Supplements Can Hurt
There are several downsides to using supplements at all, let alone as your primary source of information. The most obvious downside is that supplements are not tailored to your specific course and may not contain the information as your professor wants you to know it. Furthermore, some supplements (particularly those found through random google searches on the internet) are unreliable or incorrect. Another concern with relying too heavily on supplements is that it may make you feel like you know more than you actually do. Students often think they have a handle on the material after reading a concise commercial outline or watching a barbri lecture, but then struggle when it’s time to independently spot issues or articulate the law.
Perhaps the biggest drawback, however, is that relying too heavily on supplements compromises your ability to develop the critical thinking and analytical skills that form the foundation of a legal education. Using a supplement may mean you are skipping over the most important step in the learning process. Instead of summarizing, organizing, synthesizing and processing the material on your own, you’re skipping ahead to a finished product that has already done all of the hard work for you. While reading a difficult case or understanding a new concept may be a frustrating, lengthy struggle at times, this struggle is often an essential part of the learning process. Using a supplement may cut out the struggle or speed up the process, but it also fails to develop your study skills or give you a nuanced understanding of the concepts.
Still not convinced that supplements can hurt your study process? Just think about how much easier it is to read and memorize your own words as opposed to someone else’s words. Supplements may seem like a quick fix in the short term, but relying too heavily on them during the semester can make the review and memorization process before finals a lot more difficult.
Where Supplements Can Help
Overuse of supplements may have some major drawbacks, but there are some areas where they can actually help. If you’re uncertain about how you’ve synthesized a rule or organized some concepts in your outline, double-checking your own work against a supplement can clear up the confusion and help you feel more confident about your study aid. Supplements can also be helpful if you’re feeling lost regarding a particular concept – reading a concise summary of the concept from a reliable source may provide the context you need to better understand the cases you’re studying. Note, however, that in both of these examples the supplements are only used to support your own analyzing and learning of the material. Supplements don’t replace your own case briefing, outlining, or class attendance, they supplement it. Lastly, supplements can be extremely helpful if you are in need of practice problems. To excel at legal analysis and exam taking, you have to practice your skills, and supplements that include questions with model answers can be a great practice resource.
Law school supplements are obviously a double-edged sword – helpful in certain circumstances if used correctly, but harmful if relied on too heavily. If you plan on using a supplement but want to limit the potential drawbacks, you must use a reliable and accurate product. Don’t trust everything you read on the internet and instead get recommendations from other students, or even your professor – they often prefer particular supplements over others. Most importantly, however, you must have the self-discipline to do the hard work – reading, briefing, outlining, reviewing, practice, etc. – on your own. Go through your own learning process first and make your own study aids, and only turn to supplements as a backup resource. Be skeptical of supplements and give yourself a chance to master this material through your own effort and determination. Supplements can be used appropriately, but overuse of supplements will likely lead to more harm than help.
For more helpful advice, check out these articles:
- Save Yourself a Few Bucks – Buying Law School Supplements
- Recommended Law School Supplements
- 4 Steps to Managing Law School Material
- What Can Your Law Library Offer You?
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