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Taking notes during lectures

How To Take Notes During Law School Lectures

Taking notes during law school lectures, as well as incorporating relevant material from the casebooks into those notes, is essential for all law students because the notes you take in class are foundational to creating your own course outlines.  All first-year law students, in particular, need to create good habits regarding note taking because your first-year class notes and outlines will be used to studying for mid-term and final exams.  It is also important for those of you in your second and third years to continue to refine your note-taking and outlining skills because the progressive focus prepares you to take the CA State Bar Exam.  

The Importance of Taking Notes

In your first year of law school, you must acknowledge that law school study is different from any other educational endeavor because you are being taught to think and write like a lawyer.  This requires learning how to issue spot, memorize rule statements, apply the rules to the facts in a persuasive manner, and provide sound legal conclusions.  

All of these learning requirements start with taking effective notes in class in order to memorialize what is important to your professors who present the material with an emphasis on what they see as most significant. For that reason, you must take notes during your law school lectures - as well as from the casebooks - to solidify in your mind what is most important and to then use outside of class to make a master outline for each course. Your master outline should include each issue, rule, and rule split. 

For second and third-year law students, you need to continue to refine your process to ensure you are taking relevant notes that you will then incorporate into your course outline.  This is imperative because your knowledge of the law for each course is assessed through your law school final exam performance, so all relevant material from your notes must be added to your master outline. 

Take Notes During Lectures

You must take notes during law school lectures because your professors provide instruction specific to that course in a way that tells you what is important to them.  The majority of law school classes include a discussion of cases in the casebook.  The ones your professors include for discussion give you insight into what is significant to those professors. As such, it’s important to take notes because each case teaches you something about the law and the facts that relate to it. You may also see a succession of cases about how a law developed or provided the rule for each issue.  

As you go through cases, it is best to head-note the issue in your notes and jot down the rule, together with any insight the professor provides.  Your notes for classes such as Legal Research and Writing are generally more instructive regarding learning how to write. Therefore, you want to take copious notes regarding what is required for each assignment.

I have noticed when observing online law classes that the majority of students do not take notes.  This is a mistake absent a photographic memory, which few law students possess. Online students must set up their study space to be able to engage in the lectures as well as take notes as they are essential to learning the law and creating study outlines.

During a lecture when the professor directs you to write something down, make sure you do it. Put stars next to that note because the same subject matter will likely appear on your law school final exams.  I cannot tell you how many discussions I have had with law professors who tell their students what is going to be on a midterm or final by way of specific references to a particular subject matter, and the students completely miss the issue despite that preview.  This is likely due to the fact that they did not write down this imperative information.  

Success in the classroom as well as in the courtroom begins with taking diligent notes related to any hint from a professor or judge that provides you with insight into things to come. Paying attention to these hints and taking notes gives you a fail-safe way to achieve success, both in law school and in the practice of law. 

Utilize Your Casebook

Law students also need to take notes of the cases assigned in the casebook because law professors generally do not review all of the cases in class.  Prior to reading your cases, I always recommend that you review the Table of Contents because it provides a fantastic overview of what issues the cases are addressing.  Next, the notes regarding the cases should include the case name, the page number, the issue, and the rule or brief statement regarding what the case addresses.  Having the case name and page number will allow you to quickly locate the case if you want to review it while studying. 

The notes regarding the cases should be incorporated into your master course outline because you need to ensure you have each element for each rule. Addressing each element is critical because a missed element always results in lost points when also missed on an exam.  

You also need to add the majority and minority rules from your casebook notes into your course outline because they are an important part of legal writing in law school. However, use discernment regarding what you add from the casebook because you do not want to duplicate information from your lecture notes. 

Exam Writing Skills Courses For Law Students Can Assist With Comprehension 

I definitely recommend supplements for law students to assist with learning the issues and the rules.  While in law school, I read and briefed all of my cases. I took copious notes. However, I still needed to utilize supplements to prepare for my law school final exams. Supplements such as substantive course outlines, like those provided by Fleming’s Fundamentals of Law, can assist with filling in some of the gaps so you have complete rule statements.  Substantive course outlines also assist you to more fully comprehend the course subject matter.  

If you are really struggling with a class, there are skills courses for law students that can provide another layer of foundation for understanding the subject.  This week I recommended Fleming's Sail Through Law School with The Exam Solution® series to a former law student who is taking Civil Procedure and Constitutional Law this semester because they are difficult classes.  The Fleming’s Exam Solutions are great skills courses for law students because they provide a substantive outline that follows a four-hour substantive law subject lecture, together with three essay exams with answers.  They are also very affordable.  This Fleming's series will enhance and expedite your comprehension of the subject as well as assist you with how to write an exam answer. For first-year law students, this is especially helpful in streamlining the study process and demonstrating the law school process. 

Note-Taking Your Way to Success

Taking the time and effort to develop your note-taking skill in law school is essential to absorbing the subject material and creating your own course outlines.  When you use your comprehensive outlines to study for your exams, you have a distinct advantage over your classmates, many of whom do not take the time to create their outlines during law school.  

When you take the time to take effective notes as described above, and to use them to create your own substantive law outlines, the process of doing so focuses your attention and imprints the information in your memory like no other study tool can do. By developing proper note-taking skills and using your notes to create your own substantive law outlines for each law school and Bar tested subject, you put yourself on the road to success when studying for law school and bar exam tests. These are the same skills that create success in the practice of law, so starting early in law school will pave your way to being a successful attorney.

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