Law School Outlines

Throughout each course in law school, you are going to read and brief tons of material. This mass of material is way too much to remember. Add to that, your class notes, and you have a prescription for getting overwhelmed. But, understanding and digesting huge amounts of material is part of the law school education process. This task is impossible without adding order and simplification to that information. Outlining accomplishes this goal.

Outlining allows you to consolidate your law school class notes, the casebook, all study supplements, and any other relevant considerations into one succinct document so that you can put away that mountain of material that you have collected during the semester and concentrate on one document. Also, many law school professors will allow you to use your law school outlines on exams.

Should I Prepare My Own Law School Outline?

As a law student, you will quickly figure out ways of getting law school outlines for each course. Sometimes, when you get a really good outline, you may be tempted to skip the outlining process altogether.

We think this is a bad idea for a number of reasons. First, one of the largest benefits of the law school outline is the mastery that you get from organizing and distilling the law school class material. When you organize the law school class material, you will start to get a better understanding of the big picture. And, the distillation process forces you to understand the essence of each topic. Second, preparing your own law school outline will help you to identify your weaknesses and will ensure that your outline does not contain material that you don't understand. Finally, most law school outlines that you get are too long, contain questionable information, and include material that you won’t understand.

Outlines prepared by other law students are useful when you treat them like another supplement. Read through them. There may be elements that you borrow for your own outline. But, no matter how perfect they seem, outlines prepared by other law students will not get you an “A” in your law school class.

How to Prepare a Law School Outline

About four or five weeks after law school class starts, you should begin the process of outlining. The reason we at Law School Coach recommend starting the outlining process so early is that preparing law school outlines is an important part of the studying that will give you an edge. There is an intangible value in doing a smaller amount of studying spread out versus a bunch of studying at the end of the course. The reason you don’t want to start your law school outlines too soon is that you need to have enough material so that you can see a connection between concepts and an idea of how they work together so that you can logically organize the material.

When you finish this process, your outline should be an organized, condensed, document containing every rule of law, important case, policy consideration, and argument that you learned during the law school class. Be wary of any law school outline that is more than 15 pages. Don’t ever prepare an outline that is more than 20 pages long. If your outline is too long, spend more time organizing, condensing, and boiling it down.

Begin your outline by taking a list of the class reading assignments and highlighting the table of contents in your case book that corresponds to the assigned reading. This will usually give you a good starting point for organization. You should also compare the casebook table of contents to the syllabus from your law school class. If your syllabus and case book are organized differently, you should usually go with the case book. Other law student outlines are also useful for organization ideas.

Once you have your organization, populate the topics of your outline. A particular section might look something like this:

Law School Outline Example

Law School Outlining Tips

  • Don’t Procrastinate. The most effective law school outlines are completed a week or two before the class ends. You can (and should) go back and modify the outline after the last class.
  • Don’t Have a Distracting Format. Use standard outlining conventions. Make the document internally consistent, and use bold, underscore, and italics sparingly. Abbreviations can cause problems, use them sparingly.
  • Use Complete Sentences Whenever Possible. It will help you when you are taking the exam.
  • Compare your finished law school outline with other course outlines to see if you are missing any major items.
  • If your professor didn’t assign reading or spend class time on a particular topic within your law school course material, do not include it in your outline.
  • Prepare your law school class outline in chunks. Your complete outline should be prepared in no more than four or five sessions, with several weeks of class between each session. The Law School Coach recommendation is to outline one course each weekend starting at week 5 with the class that has covered the most material. Cycle through your courses throughout the semester.