Law School Outline Tips and Template
Law school has begun – you are meeting new people, taking new classes, and learning a different approach to studying. You’ve most likely been told to create an outline for each of your classes to help you synthesize everything you are learning. This can be a daunting task in the beginning. Below are some tips for creating a useful law school outline. We also have a law school outline template for you to review, pictured below.
Law School Outline Template
Law School Outline Tips
1. Organize the outline based on your professor’s syllabus.
When your professor distributes the syllabus for the class use it to create the skeleton of your outline. The syllabus will probably be divided into topics and subtopics. This will help you to see the larger roadmap that all the details fit into. Once you have created the skeleton outline, turn to your class notes and start adding information under the appropriate topics. Remember that your outline should be a consolidated version of what you learned in class (i.e., your outline should not be as long as your class notes!).
If you notice the template above, (d) and (e) were both sections in the syllabus. Many times, students use the syllabus headings as headings in their law school outlines.
2. Do not include full case briefs in your outline.
Many students make the mistake of including too much information about the cases they read in their outlines. Unless your professor tells you differently, do not place emphasis on the detailed facts of the cases. Do not include lengthy quotations or copy and paste your case briefs into your outline. You want to prioritize the holdings of cases and any nuances or exceptions to the general rule. You can see a sample of our Constitutional law school outline below. It contains a brief snippet of the Defunis case. This is probably about the longest snippet you’d want to include in your outline. You can often summarize a case even more quickly using your own words.
In most classes, you can excel on the law school final exams without citing one case (or with being familiar with a very minimal number of cases—like four or five). 99.9% of law school exams do not test cases!!
3. Make sure you correctly state the black letter law and any areas of ambiguity.
State the black letter law in a way that you will be able to memorize it. Do not spend time including lengthy passages from cases. If you find that you did not understand a particular concept, it is worth it to consult commercial study aids.
We recommend bolding the elements. (If you purchase our law school study aids, you can also see how we include visually appealing images to illustrate the elements of law! This can help you understand and memorize the elements! You can try them for free at the link or, instead of using ours, simply incorporate this practice into your own outline routine! See an example below.)
It is equally important to clearly state when jurisdictions follow multiple approaches that lead to differing outcomes (e.g., common law versus the modern rule). Keep in mind that the purpose of the outline is to help you understand and memorize information. Use your outline as you begin to do practice tests and see whether the outline helps you with issue spotting a fact pattern and leads you to the correct answer.
4. Include hypotheticals that your professor uses to explain difficult concepts.
If your professor gives you hypotheticals to explain an issue you should include them in your outline. It will help you to see how the law is applied to a particular set of facts. Additionally, professors often draw upon variations of these hypotheticals when they create facts patterns for law school exams.
Similarly, pay attention to whether your professor has any particular area of interest or whether she uses certain phrases regularly. Include these in your outline because it is highly likely that they will show up on an exam.
5. Include issue checklists and flowcharts to help you distill complex areas of law (if it helps you).
Some areas of law are quite complex. If you are better able to process information by creating tables, checklists or flowcharts, then take the time to do so! These techniques will help you map out the connections between ideas. Flowcharts are particularly useful if you are able to pose questions with “yes” or “no” answers to reach a particular conclusion. Issue checklists are useful if, for example, a court uses a multi-factor balancing test to reach its decision. Turn these factors into a list of questions to help you approach similar fact patterns.
See an example of a flowchart form our law school study aids below.
If you are wondering how to incorporate law school diagrams into your outline, please check out this post!