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Hello and Welcome to Legal Briefs. I’m Attorney Thien-Vu Hogan and today I will show you the only way to do outlining right.

Ok, so everyone knows what outlining is. And why we do it. It’s the process where you take everything you learn in the semester and put it together in a frame work to show how those pieces fit together. I’ll show you tips on how to start putting one together in a bit but to me that was the most frustrating part about law school.  The professor throws bits and pieces of the subject matter here and there and YOU have to figure out how everything works together.

It’s like if I was teaching a class on “How to Bake the Perfect French Baguette” and I start the class out with, “Let’s talk about humidity.” You would expect for me to start the class by talking about what ingredients you needed, what temperature to turn the oven to and the instructions on how to make the dough. Instead, you would look at me puzzled as I launch into a half hour discussion on humidity.  

But that is exactly how law school is. YOU have to figure out that the reason I was talking about humidity is because humidity levels could affect the amount of time it takes for your dough to rise.

So why do Professors do this? Remember, anyone can just memorize and regurgitate law. But lawyering requires more than just knowing laws. It’s the thought process behind how things work.

So what is the key? The key is to START outlining BEFORE the first day of class. This will give you the big picture overview that the Professor often doesn’t give.  I’m going to be showing you an example of how to start an outline when you haven’t learned anything in the class yet. And I’m not talking about completing a WHOLE outline. I’m just talking about STARTING one.

Many students will wait until 2 weeks before the final exam to start outlining. Many are scrambling and figuring out the course when that is the time to just memorize and do practice exams. If you start early, you should have your outline completed by the last day of class. And then all you need to do is start doing sample exams. 

Ok, how do we do this? Let me show you a how with the Baguette example. So if you look at the full recipe of how to make French Baguettes. This is what you would be expected to know at the end of a bread making course. But before you process ALL that information, you can break it down into a skeleton of just 4 parts. When you break it down like this, it’s fairly simple. You get the overall picture of what is needed. You got the Ingredients and the Instructions. The Instructions then can be further broken down into “Making the dough, Shaping the dough and Baking the dough.”

And as you learn more about parts of the recipe, you fill in the details. And where did our humidity discussion fit into all of this? You would figure out that it would affect all the parts where you are waiting for the dough to rise. Enough of bread.

So you will be doing the same thing to EVERY subject in law school. So let’s get into a real law school subject. Let’s start with the the most frustrating law school class.  Civil Procedure.

My Civil Procedure Professor started with the Erie Doctrine. Yes, the Erie Doctrine! So I learned what the Erie Doctrine was about. I read and memorized the Erie Quartet cases, the main objectives of the Erie decision but my gosh what did this have to do with anything and how does it fit into anything and why do I need to know all this and how would it be tested? I can memorize and memorize and memorize but that is NOT the objective of law school.

Remember, what’s critical in getting that edge in class is knowing where things fit in the framework of things. So the first thing you need to do in EVERY class before day 1 of class is to get that skeleton of the outline. How do you do that? You either, get the professor’s syllabus of the course. Or you look at the table of contents of your civil procedure book. Or you can even get a sample civil procedure outline online. But what you need to do is reduce it down to the skeleton.

I basically took the main headings in a civil procedure text book table of contents and wrote it out.  This way you have a framework of the course. You then will want to fill in the subissues. The subissues were again taken from the sub headings in the civil procedure text book table of contents. Once you have that BEFORE you start your course, you will start plugging in what you have learned at the end of each class. 

The key is to start BEFORE your classes start and fill in your outline at the end of each lecture. As I got use to this, I started to take notes IN my skeleton of the outline so that by the last lecture for the course I would have my outline filled in and done. This allowed me time to just focus on practice exams.

So my outlines were always on average 25 pages long. Don’t let anyone tell you it should be less or more than that. How much information you need to put down for you to understand things is up to you and your learning style. If you need pictures and graphs, add them in. The bottom line is to understand the frame work and how each issue falls into place.

Alright, I hope this helped you. Now go get an edge in class and start that outline! Good luck!

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