Outlines 101: How to Write the Best Legal Study Outlines Ever

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on November 22, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Earlier this week, my distinguished colleague Mr. Peacock noted that most of you law students will be spending your Thanksgiving break writing outlines. His adept observation inspired me to give you some tips on how to spend your time efficiently, writing the best legal study outlines ever.

To Outline, or Not to Outline?

For those of you on the fence about the necessity of outlining, let me clear it up for you. Make. An. Outline. If you think it's going to be a colossal waste of time, don't worry, it's not. The actual end-product isn't even that important -- it's the process. The review, summarization and creating of the outline is where all of the learning, understanding, and memorization happens. There's a reason law student all talk ceaselessly about outlines -- it's because they it work.

Oh, and if you're taking an open book exam, you still need an outline -- and tab the hell out of your text book because you won't have time to search for information -- you'll need to know exactly where it is.

Create Your Own

While I didn't study in a group, I did not study alone. That is, you could create your own outline while sitting at a table with your best law buddy, while working on your own outlines. Because so much of the learning happens in the course of creating your outline, I'm staunchly opposed to divvying up portions of the outline between study group members. Even if working in a group, create your own outline. And, forget about using that 2L's outline -- even if she made law review -- it's not the ouline, but the making of the outline that got her there.

Review Your Source Materials

It's up to you to decide what source materials to reference in creating your outline. You will likely use your class notes, your case book and you can supplement with other materials. I personally was a fan of Emanuel Law Outlines, but we all have our preferences. See what you like, and stick with it. Please note, supplements are just that -- supplements -- they add to, not take the place of, your outlines.

Keep It Organized

You want to make sure you don't include everything but the kitchen sink in your outline. The process of figuring out what to include is where much of the learning happens. You will want to include black letter law, exceptions, important cases and important statutes/rules/codes. You don't need to include the name of every case you've ever read in class. Make use of bolding, italics and highlighters -- they are your friends.

The days of all-nighters and cramming are over. Treat studying for law school like a full-time job. You need to stay focused, and you'll need rest to be at your best. But the most important thing you can do, is make your own outline.

Do you have any outline tips that you want to share with law students? What worked for you? Let us know on LinkedIn.

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