I had two good law profs 1L. One gave us a midterm, which he graded and provided feedback on, but it didn't count. When did I feel like I was on the right track? After I bombed that midterm. BOMBED it. By doing everything wrong, I was able to figure out what I needed to do right. I met with the prof once, reworked the way I did my outline, and finally understood what a "law school exam" was all about. I got the highest grade in that class on the final, which is all that matters, right?
The other prof made all of his old exams available, with a checklist of issues as kind of an answer key. I knew I was on the right track when I practiced exams, at least by outlining the answers I would give, and my answers eventually matched the profs checklists. I wasn't a study group person, but sometimes I'd sit with a trusted friend and we'd each work on the same old exam question for 15 minutes in silence and just outline an answer, then we'd compare notes and fill in what the other missed.
I don't know what resources you have available to you at your school or from your various profs, but the answer as far as I am concerned is, DO PRACTICE EXAMS.
Shan asked: How can I make myself do my outline? I keep looking at it and I just feel so overwhelmed. So I find more outlines to borrow from, but that just overwhelms me more. I get that it should be concise. But I feel like the cases we've studied should be in there too. How to format it? In order of the course, or in order like the commercial outlines do (e.g, contract formation order.)
Like all things in law school, the answer is "it depends." Open notes or closed? Open notes, I tended toward a longer outline, a little more detailed, making sure I hit the little distinctions that turned up in those note cases. I would prepare a single page table of contents/checklist by topic and tab the shit out of the outline. My typical outline for an open note class was 15-20 pages. Con Law might have been a bit longer.
Closed notes? Checklists, baby. Only the key case names, if at all, because they're useful shorthand (e.g. Tarasoff letter). I didn't get my notes down to checklist form without reworking the outline four or five times. I had a thorough outline, then as I did practice exams and internalized more, I was able to cut it down. In the end, I only included bare bones.
So the answer, Shan, is to just start the outline. Its not gonna be perfect at this point -- its October, its hard to know exactly what you'll need yet. Just start it -- an outline is a work in progress, and in the end, very personal to your learning style and what you've retained and internalized versus what you need to reread and study.
Here's something I pulled from by Torts checklist as an example. Hope its useful:
- A 1) deliberate act 2) intending to cause causing a) harmful or b) offensive contact and 3) A’s act causes such contact.
- Harmful = painful, any kind of physical injury
- Offensive = offend a reasonable sense of personal dignity
- EITHER, an act done by the person with the purpose to cause contact OR “substantially certain” (not merely foreseeable, must know) that such contact would result
- Liable for all consequences intended and unintentional. The contact must offend a reasonable sense of personal dignity.
- YES: punching, sic a dog on someone, touching a hat on head or plate in hand, extending personalty.
- YES: (close on contact) blowing smoke in one’s face (particles?)
- YES: kissing stranger (not harmful, probably offensive to reasonable sense of dignity)
- NO: words alone; Hunter shoots what he believed was a deer, was a person, evidence it was a good faith mistake, sues on battery theory, loses because he had no intent to shoot a person;
Defense and recapture of property
- Katko v Briney. Spring gun case. Holding: This was a battery since D did intend spring gun to cause harm. Could not hold up as self-defense because it was an unreasonable amount of force, and there also was no imminent danger to invoke self-defense