How to Make a Law School Outline
Do you need to learn how to make a law school outline? Your outline is, nothing more and nothing less, than your blueprint for doing well on the exam. This means understanding law school exam grading, which I cover in detail in the episode called Law School Exam Grading.
First, let’s discuss what you should NOT do when creating an outline. A mistake that many law students make is to take their class notes, rearrange them a bit, and then place them into their outline. That is not an outline, but rather a rearranged set of notes.
Also, do NOT include facts from cases discussed in class. The only thing you need from cases discussed in class are the rules from those cases.
So now let’s talk about what should go into an outline. The first thing you need is a framework for the course. I recommend that you take the table of contents from your assigned book, or the course syllabus, and use that as a starting point. You might change the format as you go along, but you need to have something to get you going.
Second, place the rules that you learned into the outline. The rules and exceptions to the rules need to be as concise as possible, and written in your own words. For example, suppose you have a case from 1894 and the case states the rule as follows: the wrong inflicted, when the defendant so did with intent, and with force that contacted the victim’s person, must result in adequate compensation for that injury. Now let’s take that archaic language and write something like this: A defendant’s intentional action will result in the defendant paying for all damages. So see what I did there? I took that old language, rearranged it, and turned it into something that we can understand today. Generally, law school exams will only test you on the black letter law.
Third, if the professor tells you, or strongly hints that something is going to be on the exam, then make a note of that in your outline.
Fourth, if you know your professor will test you on policy, place the policy arguments in the outline. More on what to transfer from your class notes in the episode “Taking Notes in Law School: The Content.”
Fifth, think about the size of your outline. Since the outline is the primary tool you’ll be using to crush your final, it must be useable. This means short and to the point rule statements that you can use on the exam. Think about it. You will remember a 15-word rule statement a lot better than a 22-word rule statement. This article provides a good example of what an outline could look like.
When to Look at Another Outline
Finally, when you have worked as hard as you can and you believe you have the perfect outline, then, and only then, look at an outline that someone else created. As I noted in my last episode, “Why Create Your Own Law School Outlines,” it is critically important that you first work on the outline by yourself because that will help you learn the law better. When you see the differences in the two outlines, don’t just make the changes. Think about the differences. Ask yourself, why is there a difference? You may find that your outline that you wrote is better in a particular area, or, you may find that you missed something. Once you’ve discovered your errors, go back and find out why you made those errors as that will reveal gaps in your knowledge, and potentially in your understanding of the law. If you stop and reflect, you will learn the law in a way that will help you get a higher score on the exam.
Those who rely solely, or heavily, on commercial outlines created by others create the illusion that they know the law. But they are failing to make the connections that are necessary to get high grades.