Attributes of A Good Law Outline
Every law student is familiar with the benefits of a well-written outline but not every law student knows how to write one. There are certain attributes that a good law outline contains. It is important to start outlining as soon as possible in the semester or quarter. Organizing your class notes is not the equivalent of making a comprehensive, quality outline. Also, consider doing your outline yourself without any assistance from your fellow students. A self-written outline should mirror your learning style.
Here are some attributes of a good law outline.
*The outline is well-organized
Review your course syllabus as well as the table of contents of your casebook. Use this analysis to organize topics and sub-topics. Next, organize the rules of law that go with each topic. Use short sentences to express your rules of law. Break it down by dividing it into smaller parts that are easier to review and memorize. Format your outline to highlight the rules of law. Consider color-coding each rule of law.
*The outline is uniform, coordinated, and exhibits parallel structure
Use the same format for each heading, section, subheading, and subsection. More importantly, each heading and subheading should have an equal and logical significance. For example, the outline detailing the three main reasons why a certain event occurs should be divided into three sections where each section details one of these reasons. Headings should be more general, while subheadings more specific. Headings may be the main ideas with the subheadings providing the supportive details, which are, therefore, more specific.
*The outline considers especially important points raised by your professor
After you have inserted all topics, black letter law, and any other substantive material that you have taken from your casebook, hornbook, and other legal treatises, it’s time to review your class notes for the information that the professor stressed or highlighted in class. This is often material that may appear on the final exam, or it may be practical information that is useful after school when you are a working attorney-advocate.
*The outline cuts the wheat from the chaff
The semester will inundate you with a vast amount of information and knowledge. You cannot reread everything you read over the semester. So, it’s crucial to sift out what is most important in your outline.
*The outline extensively uses cases, hypotheticals, and examples
It is crucial to be able to apply the rule of law to a fact pattern. It is impossible to succeed on a final exam without this ability since the great majority of law exam questions involve fact patterns.
*The outline gives equal consideration to minority rules, exceptions, and other unsettled, legal ambiguities
Law professors are not afraid to test students on these types of legal “deviations.” What is interesting is that knowing the minority rule helps significantly with remembering the majority rule.
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