Yesterday, we explored some basic strategies to taking effective notes in law school. Sometimes law students have a hard time determining what they should include in their class notes. Today, I will focus specifically on what good notes include. Although what you should take notes of can differ depending on the subject and the professor, here are some good general strategies for taking notes in your law school classes.
First, pay attention to what the professor says in class. If a professor says that something is important, you want to make a note of that. If the professor states that there is a 3-part test for some legal concept, make sure that you write down what those 3 steps are. If the professor talks about overarching themes or compares two cases to each other, note that as well. In other words, your best guide for what you should be taking notes about, what is important from assigned readings, and what might be tested on the exam is your professor. This is one reason why taking good notes in law school is so important. Students who take few if any notes won’t have this important information later when they start synthesizing course materials and studying for exams. In contrast, students who create a transcript of what happens in class won’t be able to differentiate between important information and unimportant information.
Second, remember that in the long term what the professor says in class is much more important than what your fellow students say. Sometimes students struggle with how to take notes when the professor uses Socratic Method. When taking notes in this situation, focus your notes on what the professor has asked and what the hypotheticals are about. Keep in mind that student answers may not always be accurate and on-point. Depending on what is going on in class, the professor may not take the time to point out a student’s inaccurate statements and provide the correct answer. There is also another benefit to this approach—rather than transcribing the student’s response to the professor’s questions, you can be engaged in that discussion yourself. Follow along mentally with the discussion, answering the questions in your head and comparing your answers to the other student’s answers. Make note of things that you can’t answer on your own, so that you can go back and review that material later.
Third, make careful note of any hypotheticals. Professors use hypotheticals as a way of helping students learn the nuances of the law. Maybe you have read two cases that illustrate differences in how courts resolve a legal issue. The professor may use additional hypotheticals, involving the same legal issue but different facts, to help the class better understand how courts apply the law to resolve that particular legal issue. Law school exams are based around hypothetical situations, and the more practice you have with them, the more comfortable you will be in applying law from cases to new hypotheticals when it’s time to take your exams.
Finally, sometimes professors begin class by summarizing what was covered in previous class sessions, or they may spend a little time creating a context for the current day’s reading assignment. Professors also may summarize important points from class materials at the end of class. Make sure that you take notes from these summaries, as they provide additional insight into what your professor views as important.