There you are, sitting for your very first law school exam. Understandably, you're nervous and have spent the last day pondering the worst-case scenarios. What if I get a flat tire on the drive to class? Did I review enough of the material? Will my old job take me back in case I don't make it as a 1L? Thankfully, you have an outline for this class; the Holy Grail come exam time. But does it cover what will be on that exam in front of you?
Outlines can sometimes be the key to law school success or failure, especially during your first year, so it's no surprise that companies market ready-made commercial outlines for law students. This article will provide you with an overview of these commercial outlines and resources, as well as tips for using them to your advantage.
Types of Commercial Outlines
Commercial outlines can be narrow in scope, such as an outline of a specific case (a case brief). These are typically one-page case summaries that cover key aspects such as:
- Procedural history
- Relevant facts
- Application of rules
In addition to case briefs, commercial outlines also include overviews of legal subjects with less analysis of individual cases. These overview outlines may not be structured the same as your course syllabus or textbook. However, many textbooks come with similarly organized outlines at a price (of course). Some of the more common overview outlines you see in law school bookstores are from Gilberts or Emanuel, but there are many others.
There are also commercial overview outlines tailored to specific professors and classes. These are usually found in some form of an exchange system, where law students upload their own course outlines and then obtain outlines submitted by other students. The benefit of these is that they may provide you with law school outlines that are better suited for your finals. However, the downside is that you don't know the authors, and it's harder to gauge the reliability of the content.
Along with commercial case briefs and overview outlines, there are additional commercial supplements such as:
- Examples and explanations (E&Es) to help understand legal concepts through application
- Hornbooks, which are essentially treatises on particular areas of law
- CALI computer-based exercises, which provide multiple-choice lessons
Will Commercial Outlines Help You?
Commercial case briefs can be most helpful for class discussions when you'll be analyzing individual cases from your textbook. However, keep in mind that your textbooks often edit cases to focus on particular topics.
For example, a case involving tort law and civil procedure issues may appear in casebooks for both classes but be edited to only address the civil procedure or tort issues, respectively. Because of this, a commercial case brief may not address the topic relevant to your class and may not help if you're on call (especially if you haven't read the case).
Commercial case briefs are largely helpful as background information before reading a case, but it's to your benefit to refine the brief after reading to better prepare you for Professor Socrates.
Commercial overview outlines can also be particularly helpful when you're preparing for your final exams. They can help to clarify the broad themes of a subject and often provide good black letter law. However, depending on your class, it may not be helpful to rely solely on a commercial overview outline when preparing for finals. After all, it's the process of creating an outline rather than the resulting product that helps you to internalize a subject.
If you purchase a commercial outline, it may help more as a reference while you are building your own outline. Also, a commercial overview outline will not likely address all the material you went over during your classes (including your professor's tangents), which may end up on an exam.
The goal of law school outlines is to set yourself up for success come exam time. Your finals are created by your professors, tailored to their syllabi and particular (sometimes quirky) interests. Because of this, and because you learn more through the process of outlining, creating your own outline based on your class notes is the best option. It's also important to do practice exams to ensure you're able to analyze hypotheticals and answer questions fully in a short amount of time.
However, commercial outlines and supplements can definitely help you during the semester and while preparing for finals as a study aid for filling in the gaps in your notes. Learn more about legal education, the bar exam, and how to prepare yourself by checking out the resources at FindLaw for Law Students.