Monday, January 4, 2021

Debunking Law School Myths: Outlines Edition

I think anyone who has even thought about law school has heard about outlines. In my experience, before my 1L classes started, outline was a word used with such weight (yet so frequently) that I saw it as a terrifying monster I knew nothing about and not as the simple study guide it is.

If you haven’t heard about outlines, they are what everyone will tell you is one of the most important parts of law school. You’re learning a lot of new material in law school and you need to be able to keep track of them, organize them and… outline them. In law school, this means outlining cases: find the facts, issue, rule, reasoning, holding and… a lot more about each case you study. While this is true (and I do it when I need to), I think there’s a better way to describe outlines (one that I’m sure could be plain as day to anyone who has finished their first semester as a law student, but it wasn’t to me before I started).

An outline is your map for each class. The typical structure I mentioned helps (and it’s explicitly taught to every 1L student), yes, but what helps even more is to write the important parts of each chapter or rule that you are studying in class in a way that YOU understand best. Not using only one structure and not only for cases.

In fact, cases are fascinating and definitely a huge part of understanding the law and legal reasoning, but they are also long. And sometimes even distracting (when they read like stories!). I find that I have very little time. So it’s been most helpful to me to realize that throughout my education and career, I will likely have access to cases. While it’s important to know them, it’s more important to simply learn how to focus on what the case is trying to illustrate about the rule you are learning. Then outline that. And by outline, I mean: write the rule and how it’s used, as thoroughly as possible, in a way you understand. That’s it. That seems to be what’s working best for me so far, but it doesn’t mean it will be for you. That’s kind of the point, you’re supposed to do things how they work for you.

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