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First-Year (“1L”) Outlines

Originally posted: August 16th, 2011

First-Year Outline Obsession

First year of law school offers some significant challenges. Many students find this year to be one of the most difficult years of their academic lives. One common—if not near-universal—response is that of outline obsession: first-year (1L) students tend to get lured into a never-ending attempt to create the perfect outline. This obsession gets fueled by several different players in the first-year scene, including:

  • —well-meaning law professors who remember obsessing over their own outlines and reason that, since they did it, it must be the thing to do
  • —commercial publishers of law outlines (e.g., Gilbert’s, Emmanuel’s) who have a profit motive for fueling the frenzy
  • —second-year (2L) and third-year (3L) law students who, like their professors, subscribe to the it’s-right-because-I-did-it theory
  • —other first-year students who are daunted by the amount of material they need to know and grasp onto the notion of outline omnipotence as a way to manage the stress and anxiety of first year of law school

Benefits and Drawbacks

Not surprisingly, there are both benefits and drawbacks relating to obsessing over one’s outline. More to come on both the good and the bad of first-year outlines. . . .

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More on First-Year Outlines

Original posting date: August 17th, 2011

The Downside

If outlines on the major first-year topics—contracts, torts, criminal law, and so on—were dependably useful, “obsession” would not be the right word to describe the extensive efforts that many first-year (1L) law school students pour into their law school outlines. Unfortunately, for most students, the word is appropriate.

Here are some of the reasons. These reasons are, of course, no secret to anyone, but students often lose sight of these facts during the rush of first year.

  • — you get no points and no course credit whatsoever for your outline
  • — you are not in the publishing business and probably won’t ever be
  • — you can create a 100-page outline and still have virtually no understanding of the law
  • — if you are not allowed to use materials such as your outline during the exam for the given subject, then you won’t even have your outline physically available to you when you need it
  • — those students who are allowed to use their outlines during an exam generally report that they never actually did use their outlines during the exam because outlines don’t really help one’s analysis of or writing about an issue

Consider Your Goals

In light of the above, the amount of time and effort that goes into the production of extensive first-year outlines is often a bad investment. Certainly, at least a few students do benefit from their outlines, but, as will be discussed in an upcoming article, there’s usually a lot more going on than mere production of an outline when the outline endeavor actually pays off.

Thus, students are advised to consider what their real goals are—learning and understanding the law, succeeding in law school, for instance—before they choose to invest a large portion of their first semester and first year of law school in outlining.

LEX Tutoring

Even More about First-Year Law Outlines

Original posting date: August 18th, 2011

The Upside

While there is a great deal of downside to the “outline obsession” that tends to overtake first-year (1L) law school students, outlining one’s first-year topics—property, constitutional law, civil procedure, and the lot—can be beneficial. Potential benefits from first-year law outlines include:

  • — enhanced memorization / recall of the law: the outline can be used to help students memorize rule statements; this possibility is, of course, the main theoretical justification for making an outline at all
  • — increased understanding of the law: the outline—specifically, the process of making an outline—can facilitate a person’s delving deeper into the subject matter; this possibility represents the best opportunity of all to make outlining worthwhile
  • — it’s something to do: the outline can become a sort of “lightning rod” that attracts the attention of a student who would otherwise have difficulty concentrating / studying
  • — anxiety reduction: some students find that, by working on their outlines, they feel more “in control” of there first-year of law school and therefore less anxious about it

Effective Engagement—Not the Outline Itself—Is the Real Reason to Outline

Notice that all of the above possible benefits to law outlining pertain to the effect of the outline on the student, not the value of the finished product itself. After all, as previously discussed, law students are not in the law publishing business, so a student’s outline will probably never be used again once the final exam ends.

But achieving these desirable effects does not necessarily follow from merely doing an outline. These effects flow from effectively engaging in the process of outlining.

This effective engagement is, in short, the key to making one’s outline efforts worthwhile. Effectively engaging in the outlining process—and the learning process generally—will be the topic of upcoming articles.