The study skills you learned in undergraduate or graduate school will certainly be helpful to you in law school, but you must also learn to “study like a lawyer”. That means, consistently and constantly applying what you are learning to hypothetical fact patterns, examples and practice questions. Your notes, outlines and case briefs should all be prepared with this question: HOW CAN I USE THIS INFORMATION LATER TO HELP A “CLIENT”?
- Figure out what style works for you. There are 3 common styles of note taking:
- Court Reporter: Get down every word.
- Modified Court Reporter: Key headlines with some details
- Headliner: Jots down headlines only
- Use your own shorthand. Develop your own abbreviations. Plaintiff is P; Defendant is D; court is ct; contract is K; etc.
- Listen while writing. When called upon, some students ask the professor to repeat the question as they were taking notes when the original questions were posed. If this happens, you may be the “court reporter” who is only listening for words, not content.
- Include Hypos. Exam questions are often forecast by the hypos in class. Hypos are efforts to extend the principle of the case to other sets of facts. Exams often do the same.
- Don’t stop the note taking process when other students are responding. There is a tendency to relax when you are not called upon and to disengage from the discussion. You can learn from your classmates as well as the professor, especially when the professor says “that’s right”.
- Include items on the board or in Power Point. If a professor thinks it is important enough to write on the board, or put it in a power point presentation, put it in your notes.
- Review your notes soon after class. Either the same day or the next day, review your notes for 10-15 minutes to clarify and add key points. This also reinforces the lessons before you start to prepare for the next class.
- Transform your notes into a course outline. After completing a section or chapter in your class, transfer your notes into a new document designed to be your course outline. You may find that not all of the notes your wrote down need to go in the outline, but much of the information you will use to build your outline will come from your class notes.
WHAT IS IT?
Outlining a course is the process of summarizing your case briefs, case notes, and class notes into the rules of law you will need to demonstrate your mastery of the subject during an exam.
WHY DO IT?
It helps you organize the large amount of materials covered the in course, such that you have a complete understanding of the broad concepts as well as the specific rules of the law.
WHAT FORMAT SHOULD I USE?
Depending on how you retain information, you want your outline to make sense to you and stick in your brain! Some use the basic indented outline format (I, A, a), i), while others create charts, flowcharts or diagrams. Bottom line: You should use an outline format that you feel comfortable with.
WHEN SHOULD I START OUTLINING?
The best advice is to outline each chapter or section of the casebook as you proceed through the course. If you wait until the end of the semester, you may find you do not have sufficient time to outline and prepare for class. In addition, toward the end of the semester, you will want time to review your materials and do practice exams.
Highly recommended: Complete your outlines by Reading Period before exams.
WHY NOT RELY ON MY FRIEND’S OUTLINE OR A COMMERCIAL OUTLINE?
Remember that you are not creating an outline to turn in as an assignment or to win any awards. The outline is another tool from which you can study the law. The process of you outlining a course dramatically increases your ability to retain the information and develop a sense of what information you will need to apply to a set of facts on an exam. In addition, commercial outlines are not always in tune with the material as presented by your professor. Outlines from students who have taken the course previously, as well as those put out by legal publishers can be helpful to fill in the gaps, but should not take the place of your own outline.
- Scan case first. See how long the case is, how organized the opinion is, what the holding is, and any concurring or dissenting opinions. Breaking the case down into segments can help with a long or difficult case.
- Read the case in context of prior cases or the subsection of law you are currently studying. Check the table of contents frequently to know where you are (i.e. topic and sub-topic). Each case is designed to build on or relate to prior cases.
- Highlight or make notes as you read. This will help you identify key components for your brief.
- Read the whole case first, then brief. This will give you perspective on the facts and the law the court saw as important. Trying to summarize the key facts before you read the court’s analysis may lead to including facts deemed irrelevant.
- Use a formula, such as FIRAC (facts, issue, rule, analysis, conclusion) or FPIHR (facts, procedure, issue, holding, rationale). The facts section should include significant facts that make a difference in the case outcome. The issue is the legal question(s) that the court will address given the facts of the case. The rule is the principle of law you draw from the case. Later this will go in your outline. The rationale or analysis section summarizes the court’s use of the facts and law to reach the holding. The conclusion is also known as the holding of the case.
- Summarize the facts and law in your own words. Significant learning occurs through the summarization process. Don’t just copy sections of the opinion. You lose the powerful effects of the summarization process when you only highlight or book brief.
- Attach a tag line to the most important cases. This will help you remember the key cases. For example, Pierson v. Post is the “hunted fox case”. You do not have to remember the name or details of all cases. In fact, some professors will tell you that you do not need to include case names in your exam answers. However, you should always check with your professors as some cases are so important that using the name is essential on the exam.
- Use your brief for class discussions. YOUR BRIEF IS A TOOL FOR YOU TO USE! At first, your brief may be quite long. As you gain experience in discerning the key facts and law, they should get shorter. Either way, you have a summary to use in class and for your outlines.