The Single Greatest Law School Time Management Tip: Outline From Day One


If you're getting ready for law school check this out: we put together a free e-book called the “Ultimate Pre-Law Checklist.” Just click the link below to download it. It's some of our best tips and strategies for getting ahead before you start law school, and it will put you miles ahead of your classmates, just click here.

It's hard to overstate just how important your outline is in law school.

It's going to be your primary studying device. It's how you distill all of your notes, your cases and your commercial outlines into a usable format, specifically tailored just for you. But the kicker is that the process of distilling everything takes time, and it takes way longer than you think. And time is the single, greatest equalizer in law school. Everyone has the same amount. And the students who get A's are the ones that focus on what's important and they cut out the time wasters. In other words, they focus on the stuff that actually helps on the final exam.

Now a good outline is necessary but it's not sufficient to crush your final. The point of an outline is to study from it- to organize things in a logical way so that you can study the crap out of the things that are in your outline. It's a means to an end, not an end itself. Now this might seem like an obvious point, but I mention it because more than half of my law school friends believe that it was better to wait until the end of a semester to start their outline, because they felt that they've studied by making the outline itself. They thought that the simple act of making their outline was enough to study for their exam. But this is so wrong. Now sure, the building of your outline helps, but it's only the first step. Imagine if you were preparing for a chess match by reading books about the history of chess and you waited until the week before the match to actually memorize how the chess pieces move.

It would be much better to have memorized that stuff way ahead of time and practice before your match, and the same in law school. Better to have your outline done months before your final exam instead of wasting your precious study time compiling your outline. Then as finals approached, you can practice by applying the information that you already put in your outline. What most students don't understand about their outline is that more is not better. There's an old phrase that, "If I had more time, "I would have written a shorter letter." The same is true for outlines. It takes time to distill all of that information for a particular class and to get it into a short usable form. Ideally, believe it or not, I would say the best outline is less than 20 pages. Some people try to fit everything their professor has ever said in a class into their outline. But this is the exact opposite of what you should do. The longer your outline is, the harder it is to use. And law school exams are all about the application.

Your outline is your tool bag. You want it organized, you want it clean, and you only want the tools that are going to help you for the job at hand in your tool bag. For example, a good craftsman could probably build a table with just three tools. Sure he might be able to make it faster or better with more tools, but it's better to have three tools that you know like the back of your hand than to have a hundred tools that you don't. And it's the same way with law school outlines.

Much better to know a smaller outline intimately than a longer outline only superficially. But distilling all of that information takes time. And I'm not going to lie, it's hard work. Make no mistake, distilling all of the information from your class, in commercial outlines and from your peers, into a short concise summary is one of the hardest things about law school, but it's also invaluable. So do yourself a favor and start from week one. The most common objection I hear is, "But I can't start my outline because I need context. "I need to wait until I see "how the whole class fits together "before I start distilling things down." Well I have bad news for you. You will never have the whole context for a class. And you'll always have an excuse to put it off. But you have to act and just start doing it. Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan wrote. "Understanding how to act "under conditions of incomplete information "is the highest and most urgent human pursuit." Amen to that. Make your outline starting week one and then revised it. You can always go back, and you'll probably find that every little of what you write during the first week of class will be used on the final. You can always go back and revise it. You'll understand more as the semester progresses. But it is far easier to revise as you go than it is to start from scratch just a week before finals. Do what the startups do. Build a beta version and then iterate from there.

Here's what I suggest. Monday through Friday during a regular semester, consider it your job to listen to the professor, take good notes, read your commercial supplements, and try and understand as much as you can about the class. And then over the weekend, distill all of that information into an outline. No more than one page per class per week. If you can do that, by the time the finals come around, you'll be done with your outline and you'll already be crushing your practice exams. It just takes a little work every week. It's a marathon not a sprint.

So start early, be consistent, and you'll crush finals with a kick ass outline that you started writing back in the first week of the semester.

If you're getting ready for law school check this out: we put together a free e-book called the “Ultimate Pre-Law Checklist.” Just click the link below to download it. It's some of our best tips and strategies for getting ahead before you start law school, and it will put you miles ahead of your classmates, just click here.

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