The Single Greatest Law School Time Management Tip: Outline From Day One



Your outline is going to be your primary studying device. It’s how you distill all of your notes, your cases and your commercial outlines into a usable format, specifically tailored just for you. What most students don’t understand about their outline is that more is not better. There’s an old phrase that, “If I had more time, “I would have written a shorter letter.” The same is true for outlines. Do yourself a favor and start from week one.

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36 comments

  1. This is helpful! I've been super stressed about going into 1L — currently reading a bunch of books on how to prepare.. A lot of the books say to brief every case, what are your thoughts about that?

  2. I've been a lawyer for 20 years, a lot of that as an appellate and administrative law advocate. Perhaps my thoughts are coloured by the way I prepare for appellate hearings, but here is what I would tell myself if I could go back in time and speak to myself at the start of my law degree.

    Legal argument is like a cardgame. The "cards" are your authorities, the cases, statutory provisions and sometimes academic commentaries you can cite as authority. Your performance in legal argument, like your performance in a card game, depends on two things: the cards in your hand, and your skill in how to play them.

    What does that mean for study? Get atomic or granular as quickly as possible. For example, every case should get a one or at most two page summary – year, court, casename & citation, Facts & Background, Decision, Summary of Reasoning & Key Quotes, and Other Notes (e.g. link to later cases that affect it, etc).

    These are your "cards". It can be useful to print them all out, each on a single double-sided piece of A4 paper. You can then lay them out on a big table or the floor and physically shuffle them and deal them and arrange and re-arrange then in categories. This shuffling can help you make your outline, or notice connections and insights.

    But eventually you'll want to put them in the the back of a ring binder, not in conceptual order, but in an order that's easy to find if the authority is mentioned in your outline. For cases, I always write them as "[year], [court abbreviation] – [short case name]" and the cases are in the back of my binder in chronological order.

    Once you've done that, you have the flexibility to deploy your cases to answer any question – if you can remember them at the right moment. What you need to help with that is an outline in the front of your binder that is broken up by topics and sub-topics, that lists the relevant authorities and a one line memory-jogging summary of why it's important. This acts as a kind of checklist to make sure you remember all the cards that might be useful. Most of the time, the memory jogger will be enough, but if necessary you can turn to the back of your binder and look at the 1-2 page case summary.

    The important thing here is to get to the point where you can think "bottom-up". Yes, you need a "top-down" overview and a structure when you first learn something, but that's just a way in – mastery is when you can shuffle the cards into any structure you need at will.

  3. I learnt my mistakes during the first sem of law school. I really hope to be able to make the outline from day one. 7 semester left 😭.

    "It's a marathon, not a sprint,"

  4. Currently a year 1 law student has been a month in the uni and I wanna thank you for this golden tip. Do you have some tips to how to read more effectively specially the cases? Thank you.

  5. I’m starting law school next school year and I cannot stress how true this is! I haven’t started law school yet but I apply your tips in my subjects here at uni and they all work and I am now studying smart! Thanks so much!

  6. I have a degree in Accounting; I have no desire to be a lawyer, but I find your videos interesting, insightful, and informative. I need to get my lawyer friends to look at your videos to see what they think.

  7. I am about to enter degree in Law this September. I get really confuse that is outline is similar to notes? Like making notes before lecture and revise it also add up more information from the lecturer on our notes after the class. Is that an outline? Or I got it wrong??

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