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Outlines: Fruit from the Poisonous Tree or Necessary to Success?
By Vanessa Brewer

One of the greatest law school debates is whether to use pre-canned outlines or create your own. Almost every law school professor will tell you to make your own outlines. On the other hand, almost every 2L and 3L will tell you to grab outlines from 2Ls and 3Ls that took the same class with the same professor. What about the pre-canned outlines? What is the outline recipe for success?

Pre-Canned Outlines from Secondary Sources

A pre-canned outline is an outline produced by a secondary source. The benefit of using a pre-canned outline is that the material contained in the outlines will be the meat and potatoes of a course. These outlines will typically cover the common topics taught in a particular subject. Right?

According to some law students, pre-canned outlines should not be used at all. Why? Each law school class is taught by a different law professor who has a unique style. Additionally, each professor will test on certain areas so the course outlines in one contracts class may differ completely from another. Although pre-canned outlines maybe great for getting a jump start on the underlying subject matter, these outlines should not be the only source you rely on in preparing for your exams.

Prior Student Outlines

There is one major ingredient required to utilize a law school brethren’s previous outline, trust. Who are you getting this outline from? What makes his or her outline trustworthy? How did this fellow classmate do in the class? Does this previous student process information the same way you do?

Some law students are flow chart people, some law students are word for word outline people, while other law students are flashcard people. As a student it is important to understand your style of learning and be true to your own form and format. However, an outline from a student that did well in the class is as good as gold when you miss something in class or struggle with a concept. Although it is important to not rely solely on a prior student’s outline, it is a valuable resource in crafting your own understanding.

The Script

What is a script? When a law professor is notorious for being difficult to follow, law students bond against this common enemy. For a proper script to be born, law students will pass notes down to each new class of students for at least three years. A script is a lengthy word for word document including every possible angle, question, or comment that will be made in class. A script is an all-inclusive pass into the mind of your professor.

Is there a downside? Now we are talking about fruit from the poisonous tree. A script is an excuse for you to go on auto pilot in class. You follow your professor’s lecture as you follow the seemingly word for word statements down the computer screen. This laptop cruise control is dangerous because in essence you not gaining any skills beyond that of a read-a-long class tailored for Kindergarteners. So instead of building your own understanding of the material, you coast. Coasting may work just fine throughout school. However, when it comes to the final or when you start practicing, you're on your own.

The Script . . . all law students will partake in this ritual and it may help from time to time, but . . . the Script is fruit from the poisonous tree. Beware! Either you learn it now or you will learn it later. Struggle now to soar tomorrow.

Crafting Your Own Outline

Bing, Bing, Bing! Ladies and gentlemen we have a winner. Regardless of how many sources you utilize to prepare for class or understand the material, a law student should always make their own outlines. Now, I am not saying that you should spend hours upon hours locked in an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (“OCD”) battle with the format of the outline. In fact, beware of the OCD battle to make the outline pretty. When it comes to outlines it is content over format. Once you understand the concept and refresh your recollection, move on.

The Ultimate Recipe for Success

Although some law students (especially 1Ls) set aside time to craft their own outlines, the students that excel utilize all available sources in crafting these blueprints of legal concepts. The ultimate recipe for success is to make your own outline by following the steps below:
  1. Utilize All Available and Applicable Resources
  2. Shorten Your Outline into a Rule Outline or an Attack Outline
  3. Memorize the Outline
  4. Do Practice Exams! (This will help you prepare for your final and refine your outline.)
What is the most crucial ingredient for success? Even though making an outline is a valuable experience, a lot of law students will argue that practice exams are what separate the top 10% from the rest. A student that has made their own outline will be able to move through more exams than a student fumbling with the exam. So when finals come around, make sure you outline and take as many practice exams as possible.

Posted on: 09/04/2012 05:42 AM | Number of feedback 11


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