Most law students view outlining as a necessary evil.
That’s why it can be helpful to view your outline as a continual work-in-progress. Without the psychological burden of having to create the “perfect” outline, you’ll find it’s easier to keep coming back and continually refine your work. As you do so, you’ll learn the material more thoroughly and – surprise! – emerge with a final outline that works best for you to reflect your unique learning style.
Tips to Stop Procrastinating and Get Going
Your outline equals your law class life raft.
This isn’t your first brush with law school exams – chances are you’ve experienced that sinking feeling when you read an exam’s never-before-seen hypothetical and found yourself floundering. You know this is sink or swim time. Use this as your motivation to get going on your outline. Remind yourself that when it’s complete you will have created an effective study tool that will help you issue spot, identify the rules of black letter law pertinent to the given fact pattern, argue how the rules apply, and make a winning argument.
Start with the basics.
Your casebook’s table of contents provides a natural beginning for the foundation of your outline. If needed, reorganize the headings to better align with your professor’s syllabus to reflect areas of emphasis.Tip: If you bought a new red casebook through the Casebook Connect program, you can access the online ebook and outline tool at Casebook Connect. The outline tool automatically imports the highlights and notes you’ve made within your ebook into a template based on the table of contents to jumpstart the process.
IRAC is your friend.
Issue, Rule, Analysis and Conclusion is a winning framework when it comes to answering hypotheticals. These components should all be reflected within your outline. That’s why you should organize your outline around the rules instead of cases, which demonstrate how the rules have been applied to set precedent. Under each heading, list the appropriate rules, then cite the cases. Don’t forget to include any exceptions to the rules and when they come into play. Once you’ve established the underpinnings of this black letter law, it’s time to weave in the policies that bring the rules to life and establish parameters for how they might be applied.
Hypotheticals, yes please!
Paid attention in class? Show your professor you have by including the hypos discussed in class. Chances are some variation of the hypos covered will be on the exam. This is your chance to rack up points.
Find the format that works best for you.
As you refine your outline, now is the time to make it best suited to your learning style. Some students do well with a traditional outline format, while other benefit from different approaches. “If this, then that” scenarios work well for many, and set up an easy way to decipher fact patterns and apply rules. Visual learners do well with flowcharts that illustrate which rules come into play with fact patterns.
Follow the Rule of Three.
At first, your outline is bound to be a hefty 100+ pages. As you refine, you’ll find that your everything-but-the-kitchen-sink version becomes a much more manageable (and shorter) 30- to 40-page outline. By exam day, aim to have a 1- 2-page skeleton version that can be easily memorized and reproduced during the exam for easy reference.
Get help from a name you can trust.
Finals exams can make or break your grade, so double check your work. The popular Emanuel Law Outlines series is a great resource for students who want to strengthen their understanding of the law. ELOs provide an effective framework for organizing an outline, help explain difficult concepts, and serve as a reference to ensure key points are not overlooked. The Quiz Yourself feature, Exam Tips, and Essay Exam Questions and Answers found within each book of the series are especially helpful when studying for finals.