March 21, 2014 · 11:37 am
It may sound crazy to talk about how to outline when we are already three quarters of the way through the school year, but outlining is a skill that you can constantly improve—whether you are a 1L, 2L, or 3L. I thought I would take this opportunity to discuss “best practices” for outlining. Maybe after reading this post, you will discover something that strengthens your outlining skills and make your outline do more work for you.
Of course, we use the word “outline,” but a law school outline can be so much more than a document organized by Roman numerals. While it is certainly possible to organize information from course materials using the traditional Roman numeral format, outlines can utilize many forms. Some students use bolding, underlining, tabs, and bullet points to organize their course information, while others use the tables function in Microsoft Word to create organized sections. Still others find Mind Mapping a useful technique. Experiment with different ways of organizing your outline—you may be surprised about what works best for you. You also may discover that what works for one class may not work as well for another. Outlines are personal and should support your understanding of how the course material comes together.
One reason why the outline is so important is that it really is the place where you learn the law. By synthesizing various course materials (case briefs, class notes, other assigned reading, etc.), you gain a deeper understanding of legal issues and see connections among legal concepts. You also identify legal issues that you don’t entirely understand—topics that you need to spend more time on, go back and read about again, or set up an appointment to meet with your professor to go over.
So what should your outline contain? Regardless of format, all strong outlines contain the same basic types of information. The first step is to make sure that your outline is organized around legal issues rather than cases. For each section, start with the legal issue that you are going to focus on. Make sure each section has the following parts, as applicable: (1) history/development of the legal issue over time (For example, when you studied personal jurisdiction in Civil Procedure, you read Pennoyer v. Neff. Although not everything is this case is still good law, it may provide helpful context for your understanding of the current state of personal jurisdiction law); (2) any rules/tests/factors relevant to the legal issue, along with any definitions of key legal terms; (3) policy arguments relevant to how courts decide this legal issue; (4) competing approaches to the same legal issue (such as majority vs. minority approaches, or common law/Restatement/Uniform Commercial Code); (5) cases and hypotheticals illustrating components of the outline described above (in very brief form, focusing on facts relevant to understanding the legal issue that is the focus of this part of the outline); and (6) any observations about how this legal issue relates to other legal issues in your outline (for example, for your section on the tort of negligence, you might note that defenses and other legal concepts such as contributory/comparative negligence, joint and several liability, vicarious liability, etc. may also apply).
If your outline contains this information, it will be the only thing that you need to study for purposes of the final exam. And, most importantly, you will gain a deeper understanding of legal concepts that will stay with you–not only for the final exam but for the bar exam and the practice of law.
Filed under General, Outlines, Study Tips
Tagged as 1L, 2L, 3L, academic success, bar exam, final exams, law school, law students, mind maps, outlines
March 14, 2014 · 4:05 pm
About this time in the semester, law students get back a legal writing assignment, seminar paper draft, or other assignment from a professor. Sometimes, you may get a lower grade than you expected or hoped for, and it may be covered in red ink or its equivalent. At this point, you may be asking yourself if the decision to go to law school was really a good idea after all. There’s a temptation to start beating yourself up, to view this one grade as the summation of your current and future abilities as a law student, and to feel defeatist about how you will end up doing in the class at issue. Although it may feel like the end of the world at the time, a graded assignment–even if the grade is not what you hoped for–is actually an opportunity. I’m not saying that you are not entitled to feel disappointed or frustrated when you get it back, but don’t let those feelings prevent you from gaining the benefit of feedback.
Here’s how to get the most out of a graded assignment:
- Carefully read over the assignment, focusing specifically on any feedback provided by the Professor. Go carefully through: (a) any notes and editing suggestions written in the assignment’s margins or text; (b) any additional comments/suggestions written at the end of the assignment; (c) any grading rubrics or grading-related handouts provided by the professor; and (d) any notes that you took when the professor discussed the assignment in class.
- Go back through the assignment a second time. This time, take notes about the feedback. Divide the notes into different categories, such as: (a) criticisms related to legal argument; (b) criticisms related to organization; (c) criticisms related to formatting; (d) criticisms related to grammar and punctuation; (e) criticisms related to strength of research; and (f) criticisms related to citations and Bluebooking. Make a list of questions that you have about the feedback.
- Make an appointment to see the professor about the assignment. Don’t argue about your grade. Instead, focus the appointment on understanding what you need to do better in the future. Come to the meeting with specific questions for the professor about things that you don’t understand or need further clarification about. If you are prepared for the appointment, you will get more out of it.
- You may also want to set up an appointment with the academic success office at your law school to work further on developing specific skills.
- Finally, create an action list from what you’ve learned from this entire process. When you do the next assignment, use that action list as a guide for writing and editing your work. Focus on not making the same mistakes twice.
Just remember: a graded assignment is an opportunity to learn important information and make progress towards your future academic and professional goals. If you approach it with that mindset, even when the grade is not what you hoped for, you will seize the opportunity for further growth!
Filed under General, Grades, Law School Exams
Tagged as 1L, 2L, 3L, academic success, assessment, feedback, grades, law school, legal writing
March 4, 2014 · 3:24 pm
I have to confess that I’m a fan of Project Runway–or more accurately, I’m a fan of Tim Gunn’s approach to mentoring the fashion designers on the show. He walks around the workroom as the show’s contestants are in the midst of various design crises, providing insightful guidance and instructing them to “make it work.” That advice is just as applicable to law students, but how to “make it work” is not always clear.
The demands of law school can feel overwhelming at times, as students struggle to juggle many competing priorities. At this point in the semester, 1Ls have deadlines approaching for major assignments in legal writing, but at the same time they must keep up with the reading for their other classes. Depending on the law school, there may be midterms looming, and outlining for torts or contracts or civil procedure or any other subject (or all of the above) may be falling further and further behind. What seems like the last straw may be that email from Career Services reminding you that applications for externships are due before spring break, or the realization that Summer is only two months away and you still don’t have any plan for what you are going to do.
It’s not like things are easier for 2Ls. Everyone assumes that you have everything figured out, but there is always that class (or sometimes more than one) that is more of a struggle. You may be juggling the demands of your classes with a part-time job or externship. The winter seems to be dragging on forever, and you also have the sudden realization that summer is not far away. If you haven’t sorted out your summer plans at this point, you may be feeling a sense of panic.
And let’s not forget the 3Ls. You are approaching the end of your law school experience, but that doesn’t mean that the challenges are over. Fine-tuning your approach to law school, even at this late date, could improve your chances of success on the bar exam.
This blog is for you–law students at every stage of the law school experience. The goal is to explore how to “make it work” for you–in other words, how to improve your level of academic success in law school.