Why You Shouldn’t Sweat Outlining


“Outlining,” as it’s called, seems a bit foreign to prospective law students but I urge you to consider the topic before making it even halfway through your first semester.  So what is outlining?  Well, its compiling all of your notes and other relevant material into a single document that you’ll use on your final exam.  So why do law students make such a big deal out of it?  Inexperience.  Often times new law students think the outline is their key to success—and it is—but just not in the way you’d expect.

You see, it’s the journey, not the destination, that garners results.  Let me explain.  Developing a solid outline is important—you want it to look neat, organized and robust—but the learning process is most important.  You’ll find that while you put your outlines together, you’re learning everything about the class as well as developing memory as to where each particular piece of information is located within your outline.  Thus, when you decide to put together this outline is up to you and depends on your learning style.  Here are some tips for putting together a solid outline.

Why you shouldn’t include summaries of cases in your outline.  My first semester I took Torts, as most of you will.  When developing my outline, I was convinced that the exam would include facts nearly identical to one of the cases I read over the semester.  So what’d I do?  I included a summary of every case.  And where did that get me?  Nowhere.  Sure you need to include holdings from relevant case law, but you certainly don’t need much more than that.  Why?  Because final exams nearly always involve crazy fact patterns.  Essentially the professor sits down, usually at their cabin, and puts together a fact pattern that is totally original and certainly not based on Palsgraf v. Long Island Rail Road Co.  So don’t waste your time compiling every fact from every case.  That time is better spent elsewhere.

Build your outline around the exam.  Whether you’re a prospective law student or a first-year, you’re sure to come across the antonym, “IRAC.”  IRAC stands for Introduction, Rule, Application, Conclusion.  Every professor will pound this into your head as the only way you should set up your exam answers.  The introduction and rule will sound something like, “Battery consists of four elements, 1, 2, 3, 4.  In order to establish intent, a plaintiff must show 1,2,3.”  Thus, I would suggest you set your outline up in the same way.  That way, instead of thinking about how to phrase the introduction section of your IRAC answer, you can just copy it straight from your outline.  If you can master this simple trick there will be plenty of A’s in your future.

Supplement your outline with supplements.  A supplement is essentially a commercial outline developed and published by a host of competing companies.  You’re going to hear a lot about them in law school.  Fellow students, they’ll tell you that their supplement is the “bees knees.”  Professors, they’ll tell you that they never used supplements in law school and that supplements might lead you astray because the information could be different from their lectures.  They’re wrong.  Sure every state has varying laws, but largely you’ll be learning about majority holdings.  Besides that, everyone teaches the same law.  If a professor isn’t teaching the same law as everyone else, including the supplement makers, then they might want to jump on Westlaw or LexisNexis and get their facts straight.  I’ll make the decision easy for you.  From my experience, Emmanuel’s supplements are the best out there.  Don’t waste your time buying anything else—Emmanuel’s is all you need.  Take this supplement and incorporate it into your outline.  Sure case law will tell you the law, but Emmanuel’s will explain it.

So there you have it.  Three easy tips to creating a stellar outline.  Good luck!