When to Use Law School Study Aids
Have you wondered when to use law school study aids? Perhaps you have heard some 2Ls or 3Ls talk about certain study aids that helped them get an A in a class. Maybe one of your friends bought one of those 3L’s study outlines. If you are considering using a commercial study aid, please read this first to learn how to effectively use these study aids.
A commercial study aid is anything other than what you created. This can be outlines, hornbooks, treatises, notes from a prior year, case briefs, audio, video, anything that you did not create is what I include in the concept of a commercial study aid.
In my first week of law school, my professors told me to never ever use law school study aids. I now understand why they gave their students that advice. This was because most students use study aids that hurt their chances for success. For example, study aids used the wrong way will create a false sense a mastery that results in lower grades. I’m not telling you that you will fail law school but you may remain a B or C student when you could be an A student.
The one study aid that you should never use is the case brief. A case brief is when someone else has read the case and provided you with the relevant facts, issue, and rule of law. Since this is the one study aid that I am telling you to avoid, let me tell you why. The sole purpose for reading cases is class preparation. So in all likelihood, your professor will cover the case in class. It is okay to go to class not fully understanding every case you read as long as you truly worked through it and tried to understand it before class. If you want to learn more about this, check out my video on how to brief a case.
Most students believe they have to go into class as experts or their professor will destroy them. That may have been true years ago but today, the vast majority of professors will work with students if they are struggling with understanding a case as opposed to not having read the case at all. It is through struggling through the law that you learn, not by reading someone else’s notes. (For more information, watch our video on how law school professors operate)
Now let’s look at all the resources that provide the black letter law. These resources include hornbooks, treatises, outlines, audio, and video. My recommendation is that you use these resources to help you understand the law. For most students, you should probably read one of these resources first and then read your assigned cases. That way the case will make more sense to you. After all, you learn the law better if you read a case in its legal context.
Audio resources in particular can be used very effectively. For example, you have to get to school, that means you either walked there or drove there, taking some time to get to class. Don’t waste that time! Use your time effectively. Audio can be a great way to use that down time rather than listening to the radio or something else as you’re driving into school.
Finally, let’s discuss commercial outlines. DO NOT USE someone else’s outline, whether purchased or not, without making your own outline first. You are going to learn a whole lot more if you condense your notes and turn them into your own outline instead of relying on someone else’s thought process. Now, you did not hear me say to not use someone else’s outline, period. What I tell you is to struggle and make your own outline first. Once you have put your best time and effort into creating your own outline, and you are convinced that you have the best outline possible, then look at someone else’s outline to see what they have done. Then you can make changes to your own outline. Certainly you are going to miss things but you do not want to look at someone else’s outline first and then not do the hard work because then you don’t learn and you remain that B or C student.
The primary reason why most people that use law school study aids never reach their full potential is because they never struggle with the law, which is how we learn. Many students become satisfied with their grades, believing that they can’t do better because they just didn’t understand the material, the professor was too hard, or the exam wasn’t fair. While a B student will graduate law school and pass the bar exam, the best jobs and opportunities go to A students.