Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, October 25, 2013

Tips for Dealing with Students Who Don't "Do" Outlining

As a part of my required OneL course, all students are required to turn in outlines from two of their courses. This has been standard in all of my classes for the past several years. I don't grade the outlines based on mastery of the law; I grade them with a check/check plus/minus, based on how much effort they are putting into sythesizing the material. Every year, without exception, at least one student tells me they don't "do" outlining. Here are some of my responses to their reasoning:

1) "I don't outline because Prof. X told me he never outlined when he was in law school in 1964."

It's wonderful that Prof. X succeeded in 1964, when there were a fraction of the cases that you need to understand and apply on an exam in 2013. 1964 is not 2013. You are not Prof. X. The bar exam looks nothing like it did when he graduated from law school. You need to outline in order to synthesize the vast amount of material that is covered in class, to create a "big picture" for yourself, and to prepare for exams. You need to learn the process of outlining because it is also critical to success on the bar exam.

2)"I was an A/3.9 student at my undergrad, and I never needed to synthesize my learning. I just do the required work, and it's enough for me."

Law school is not undergrad. Law school grades on a curve/normed/around a median. At most undergrads, everyone could receive an A if they memorized the material and regurgitated it on the exams. In law school, memorization is not enough; understanding and application are essential to success. A law school class gives you 10,000 trees, and you are expected to describe the state of the forest on the exam. Undergrad classes never asked you to do that. Don't the required work will help you describe 10,000 trees, but it will never help you see if it is a deciduous forest on the verge of collapse due to fungus, or a coniferous forest transforming itself after a wildfire.

3) "I don't outline because I use flashcards and create PowerPoints."

You are outlining. Outlining means synthesizing case briefs, reading, and class notes, to help you see the "big picture" and apply what you know on the exam. An outline can be in a variety of formats; it does not need to look like the outline format you learned in 6th grade with Roman numerals.

4) "I don't outline because I don't have the time; I have kids, a job, and I commute 3 hours a day to law school."

You need to think long and hard about whether you want to continue to invest the money in a law school education if you do not have the time to do the work to succeed. There are no shortcuts to law school success. You must have the time to do the work, and part of the work required for success is outlining. Don't throw good money after bad; don't pay for the opportunity for an education if you are not learning.


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