We’ve had requests for a break down of commercial study aids. We each use them to varying degrees, so I asked someone else I knew who has used them in almost every shape and form to put together a summary. Much thanks to Scalito from There’s No Competition in Law School for the bulk of this information! (Just remember when taking our advice how much you paid for it...)
Scalito: I purchased Gilbert for his first semester Torts class. The substance of the Gilbert outline was lacking when compared to Emanuel's so for that reason alone I wouldn't recommend them. In the test prep department I thought that the hypotheticals were too easy and the True/False/Multiple Choice were sub-par as well. That being said, if you already have a Gilbert Outline - there are a few good things. The charts are excellent for learning the materials and the indexing system using the section symbol gives the newby 1L practice with finding substance via § § 's instead of page numbers.
Namby: I would echo Scalito’s sentiments about Gilberts. I made the mistake of buying them early in the semester and finding out at the end that they were subpar at best. I wholeheartedly recommend the Emmanuels.
Scalito: I purchased Emaunel's for Contracts, CivPro, Property, ConLaw, Crim and CrimPro. I found these outlines more well suited for reviewing daily reading and putting each concept in the context of the class. The review problems at the end of each chapter are worth doing but there were many times where the review problems covered issues that we skipped in class. For review problems, I would suggest using Chemerinsky for the ConLaw and Examples and Explanations for Property. Perhaps pick one up and review with it in the first semester before committing both time and money to long-term use.
Calculating: Chemerinsky is expensive, but it was the best $50 that I spent all semester! For me at least, Con Law cases were long, boring and full of dicta. Our class also had a lot of emphasis on how each justice would vote, and Chem helps to summarize this as well as to get to the root of each case. It doesn’t have sample problems, but it synthesized the information so well that I stopped reading my casebook altogether.
Namby: I corrected my 1L mistake in the Second year by only buying Emmanuels, they were great because of the substance of the actual outline (I don’t need nice pretty arrows, I need substance!). They are worth every penny especially down to the wire. This outline saved my butt for CrimPro
Scalito: I purchased the CrunchTime's for ConLaw, Contracts and CrimPro. The CrunchTime is really a consolidation of the full Emanuel Outline of the same subject minus detailed substance discussion. It is full of exam tips, sample problems and answers and great flowcharts for analysis of issues in each class. I can recommend the CrunchTime if you have a visual learning style as I do. When used in combination with Examples & Explanations, a winning combination emerges.
Calculating: I only purchases CrunchTime for Contracts. Everything I know about Contracts I learned from CrunchTime. It was a life saver! I highly recommend buying CrunchTime in any situation where you stopped reading about six weeks before the final and you didn’t take any notes in class because none of what the professor said made any sense.
Namby: Used in concert with your own work or the material of full outlines, these things are genius
Examples & Explanations
Scalito: My favorite of the bunch. Not a true outline but Examples & Explanations offers real world problems after each a great (and usually simple) explanation of each topic and an easy to understand explanation of the law behind the answer. I purchased E&E for CivPro, Property, Torts and Crim/CrimPro. If you use CrunchTime for outlining purposes and E&E to supplement your understanding of the topics, professor comments and your notes - you should do fine.
Namby: Great for the first year classes to read along with the actual caseload. I used these predominatly for CrimLaw, CivPro, Torts, and I think one or 2 other classes. Buy this early and use often
aLs: The E&E for contracts was incredibly useful. The text followed our class almost perfectly and it did a very good job defining and explaining everything. The examples at the end of the sections were very useful. The primer was good at pointing out all the differences between the UCC and the common law. I should also say that for Contracts I used a primer that was written by one our casebook authors. If you want hardcore, thoroughly explained law, this is a good way to go. Check online to see if your textbook has a primer out there made to go with it.
The E&E for torts was somewhat useful. The examples and explanations aspect were the most useful. The actual text seemed kind of watery and often left me scratching my head. I still think that all things considered, it's not a bad buy, but if someone tells you that they had a good experience with another book, I would go for that one instead.
The E&E for civil procedure was a mixed bag indeed. During the first semester it often provided helpful insight into the law. The hypothetical problems were useful for applying all the difficult questions that revolve around jurisdiction. During the second semester, the book was completely useless. It has nothing or next to nothing about class action lawsuits, joinder, and various other important topics. I think this book will help you, but be prepared to find a new supplement when Spring hits.
The E&E for property was excellent. Just like the contracts primer, it was very well done and covered everything in plenty of detail. The sample problems were useful and well done. I think that this E&E is a very good deal.
I did not use an E&E primer for con law. I used a primer that was written by one of our casebook authors to explain everything in the casebook. It eventually got to the point where I would read a canned brief for the assigned case, then skip to the primer to really understand what was being said. I think that for con law, primers and canned briefs can be a major help. At the very least, they can save you many hours of reading, and rereading, Supreme Court cases.
Scalito: I have mixed feelings on the topic of commercial briefs. I used an electronic version in the first semester (ecasebriefs) and a paper version second semester (Casenotes Legal Briefs). These can be useful early on while you are learning how to brief your cases in your own way but you may start to rely on them and sometimes even skip the reading in favor of a commercial brief. While this is tempting, the professors often asks questions which are not covered by the commercial briefs which may leave you high and dry in a Socratic stare-down with your prof. If you use them only to review and to double check your briefs against them, they can be a good tool.
Calculating: I got eCasebriefs for all of my classes second semester. Six of us put in money for them, and I’d email the briefs out on a weekly basis. We found that for some of our classes, they weren’t even beneficial at all (due largely to the prof having her own briefing template that she required us to follow and she said that she’d basically crucify anyone that she found using canned briefs). So my advice: only use others briefs after you are comfortable with briefing on your own. I’m not a big fan of paying for things I can get for free, so first try to find them online (such as 4LawSchool – but those are student briefs, so make sure they are accurate before you start quoting from them in class) or use your Lexis/Westlaw access to use their Brief It functions (in my personal opinion, Lexis has a clearer briefing tool). One last word of advice, if you do decide to buy a canned brief do it after the first day of class.
Namby: I’m against briefing in any form. Briefing is a canned way to learn what you are studying, find what you are looking to do and go with it. Don’t spend money on something like this.
Final Closing Thoughts:
All of these primers can be purchased on Amazon. Don't waste your money buying them in your school bookstore. You can usually get these used for 20 bucks. If you buy an older version, beware, the law may have changed a bit....but as long as you pay attention in class, I'm sure you'll catch any changes. Also, another reason to buy the new ones is that they usually cover more material and have been improved.
Some other sites you can buy books: