Oooooh the dreaded law school outline. Do not fear, there are many ways to outline and, technically, none of them are wrong. I’ll share with you how I like to outline, BUT always remember that studying in law school is a highly personalized journey that needs to be tailored to fit your needs.
First and foremost, the casebook table of contents is your best friend. Most of the time, I utilized the table of contents in my casebook as the general skeleton for my outline. Most of the time, it was foolproof. Below is a good example of a useful table of contents.
For the meat of my outline, I focused on the elements of black letter law. I found it to be the most effective form of outlining in general. Of course, my outlines differed from class to class for various reasons, but I tried to focus on the elements.
For example, I would define the rule first. Then, list numbered bullets for the elements of the relevant law. Within those elements, I would include the relevant cases that discussed certain elements in one (maybe two) sentence(s). This is where all your case briefs come in handy (I will make a post on how I personally like to case brief). Below is a partial example of how I would outline adverse possession.
II. Acquisition Through Subsequent Possession
Adverse possession of land: transferring land interest w/o consent of the prior owner through expiration of statute of limitations.
- continuous: uninterrupted/normal use of property.
- Howard v. Kunto: summer property use was considered normal use.
- adverse: assertion of title w/o the owner’s consent.
- Manillo v. Gorski: accident can be a hostile assertion of title.
- exclusive: definition
- case example 1: summary
- case example 2: summary
- open and notorious: definition
- case example: summary
Adverse possession of chattel: definition
- element 1: short definition
- case example: summary
Additionally, I would make sure to separate my outline by categories, usually the casebook table of contents does a good job of this. For example, in property I would group together intellectual property, nuisances, acquisition, etc. These categories would be color coded in my outline. You could also use roman numerals, letters, numbers, or symbols.
I also like to utilize bold, underline, and italics too. Just like color coding, I had certain information related to bold, underline, or italics. For example, case information was in italics.
I would usually outline after the end of a unit or section because it was a great time during the course to review what you just learned. For example, I outlined acquisition when we finished and it was a perfect to time review before moving onto the next section in property.
The following are additional helpful tips related to outlining:
First, tailor your outline to your exam form. Every class will have a different type of exam and professor expectations. Be sure to tailor your outline accordingly. For example, I was allowed one page of notes on my property final. My outline was a little more detailed than my one pager, so that I could use the page as a memory trigger.
Second, make it a habit to update and review your outline regularly. This is something I struggled with because it’s difficult to keep myself accountable when there’s no immediate harm. I learned the hard way. Just remember that outlining is a long term process.
Third, take a look at other students’ outline forms. Join clubs for access to outline banks! This will help you figure out a way to outline if you don’t already know which outline form you prefer.
Fourth, keep it short, but informative. This requires knowing what is important for tests and how much you are able to memorize when exam season rolls around, which will take some trial and error. I would say to err on the safe side, and over include information in your outline because you can always shorten the outline as the semester continues.
WARNING: Beware of how you utilize outline banks. They can either help you or hurt you. I loved to use outline banks as a supplement to my outlines by going through them close to exam season just to make sure I included all the necessary information. Do not depend on these alone.
I hope this was helpful. It’s difficult to go more in depth regarding how I outline because it truly differs depending on the class. I tried to keep this post as general and applicable as possible, but if you have any questions, please feel free to comment or contact me. And remember, this is just how I like to personally outline.
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