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1L Outlines

One of the great challenges of law school involves condensing and organizing the massive amount of material covered by your classes to allow for more effective studying. A good comprehensive outline can make an enormous difference in your ability to meet your educational goals, particularly in your first year as a law student.

Outlines quickly become coveted objects. You will likely hear whispers about outlines produced by a current or past student, that are thought to practically guarantee top grades for those lucky enough to possess them. The truth, however, is that an outline that works well for one student may not for another and, like a lot of tools, an outline only works well when the user knows the right way to use them. The following article discusses how to make, acquire, and use 1L outlines effectively.

What Are They Good For?

Making and sourcing quality 1L outlines require that you first understand what an outline is good for. You'll have access to textbooks and online resources that can give you all the details on the cases and laws covered by your course, so why would you need yet another resource?

The answer is that you need a shorter document that covers the main concepts and principles of the legal subject without getting bogged down in details. A good outline will help you understand how all the different parts of a legal concept interact and work together as well as provide a concise resource for your continued study. For this reason, you shouldn't be intimidated when you inevitably hear that someone has produced an amazing 150 page outline that includes everything covered in the course. An outline nearly as long as the text serves very little purpose.

Who Has The Best Outlines?

The short answer is that you do. Some students swear by a particular company's professional outlines, or your peers may be blown-away by another student's outline, but the best and most effective outline is nearly always the one you make yourself. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't consider looking at or using a professional outline, or trade outlines with classmates, but their use will mostly help you identify and fill in your own outline's soft spots.

Constructing an outline will require you to review your class materials and notes with a different set of eyes. Instead of a close examination of the details of cases and laws you will be looking to draw out the rules and principals that connect the many materials that have been presented to you. If you just take someone else's outline, you'll miss the opportunity to acquire the understanding that comes out of the process of working through the material in this manner.

Outline Advantages and Disadvantages

Although your own outline should be your primary resource, it doesn't hurt to access other outlines that are available. The following chart reviews some of the advantages and disadvantages of different kinds of outlines.

Official Outlines

Some schools or professors maintain their own official outlines as a resource for their students. These may be produced by the professor, collected by a student organization, or compiled from outlines produced by top students. Official 1L outlines may be useful because:

  • they contain the most relevant topics;
  • they may help understand which concepts and topics the professor or school consider to be most important; and
  • they are typically free.

There are some downsides though, including that:

  • they are equally available to your fellow students, so they don't provide much of an edge;
  • they are sometimes professor or course-specific and may not be appropriate for your study; and
  • they may not, despite their official acknowledgment, accurately or entirely cover the material in the current course.
Commercial Outlines

Companies offer a variety of study aids such as outlines. Commercial 1L outlines are helpful because:

  • they may approach issues with different examples and explanations than you have previously encountered;
  • they may be focused on an aspect of a course that you found particularly troublesome; and
  • they may come bundled along with other study tools that you find helpful.

On the other hand, commercial outlines have some downsides, including the possibility that:

  • they cover material that is irrelevant to your course;
  • they contain obsolete or inaccurate information; and
  • they may be expensive.
Peer Outlines

Your fellow students may be interested in exchanging outlines. This can be helpful to your study since your fellow students' 1l outlines:

  • were produced using the same class experience and material;
  • may highlight topics you failed to notice or understand; and
  • are usually free or part of a trade.

However, there are some risks involve, which include the possibility that:

  • your peer may have misunderstood the material; and
  • the outline may be incomplete.


Need More Assistance?

The first year of law school involves a lot of new experiences and an overwhelming amount of work. Along the way you'll hear advice based on superstition, anxiety, and ignorance. Come back to FindLaw for Law Students regularly for discussions about topics ranging from pre-law classes to finding your first job as a lawyer without all the confusion.

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