Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Outlining 101

This was originally posted at Thanks, But No Thanks. Nobody, the author, alternates with the Legal Underground and writes the weekly law school roundup. Reposted with permission.

Recently, one of the test prep companies on campus made the (grievous) mistake of inviting me to come in and speak to the 1Ls on "Survival Tips for Your 1L Year."

Hey. Quell your laughing, guys. They were serious, though I sort of suspect I was their backup choice. I love this sort of event, for the same reason I like blogging: giving out unsolicited advice is one of my favorite hobbies.

Anyway, I spoke on a panel of 4 upperclassmen from varying backgrounds and of varying academic interests. We had to answer all the token questions: Do you have any smart survival tips? (Obviously. Some more useful than others.) Is there anything you wished you knew? (Yes. Enough to write a book on it), Do you have any Socratic method horror stories? (I gave them the gory details of my first day of school)

We also got this one: What do I do about outlining?

This is what I said:

1. Just Do What Works for You: Mwhahahahah. Kidding. Sorry. Everyone says this in law school. What "just do what works for you" actually means is "I'm not that confident about my own system, and frankly, I've stumbled through so many that I can't remember how I got here anyway." The Just Do What Works For You approach isn't all that helpful if you have no idea what works for you.
The approach I recommend is the Don't Freak Out If Someone Else Does It Different approach. Someone is going to have a longer, more color-coded, outline than you do. Someone else will have an index. It will all be ok: you are good enough, smart enough, and you've spent enough damn hours on this outline that you're going to have to live with it.

2. Remember, Outlining is About Access: You do not need to know what Justice Storey said on page 49 of that opinion. I promise. Your outline should not contain this material. What your outline should do is provide a roadmap to the class. This means that major themes are featured, recurrent questions are addressed, and materials are synthesized (more on that later) in a way that makes them easy to access in your mid-exam flurry.

3. Class counts: If a topic is highlighted in class, you should have it in your outline. Your book notes will be helpful filler, but in 2.5 years of law school, I have yet to encounter an exam that favored topics exclusively covered in the book over lecture notes. Think about it. Your professor has several hours a week to hear himself talk about whatever he'd like. If he wanted you to ignore what he was saying, he would have made this a paper class.
My rule is this: if it is mentioned more than two days in class, the topic gets its own heading in my outline. Less than 10 minutes, and it doesn't make it in.

4. On the role of the book: One of the biggest mistakes I made 1L year was trying to synthesize the enter textbook into my outline. I ended up with a torts outline that was 109 pages long. This made people look at me like I was a crazy person (accurate) and was pretty much impossible to use during the exam, because it was so long and bulky (see #2).
I think this is a common 1L problem. Laying too heavily into the book not only ties up the time that would be better spent outlining or studying, but it can cause you to neglect the information that was focused on in lecture.

5. Easy there, turbo: Step slowly away from the squib cases. It is hard, when you're outlining, to resist the urge to put everything in there. To avoid this temptation and assuage my neurosis, I bring (a) class notes, (b) reading notes and (c) a copy of the assigned texts into my finals, when it is allowed. Here's the beauty of that approach: you don't have to put everything in your outline. If your professor throws you a curveball question, you will have your class notes, reading notes, and your book (which you've been taking notes in the margins in all along) to help you out. If none of those things help you, take a deep breath: everyone else is screwed too.

6. The Best Outline Prep is Reading: Seriously. Stay up on your reading. You're going to be almost $100k in debt for this- you might as well make your class time worth it by being prepared. That said, if you get behind (and you will)- it is ok to focus on the "big" cases and let the shorter ones slide when you start outlining. If it comes down to really understanding International Shoe or not, you're going to need to damage control. Get the big 'uns, and resist the urge to "catch up" on all of your reading when do you your outline- you do not need to have assiduous notes on every case, so long as you can find a case if you need it.

7. On Timing: I started outlining in mid-October, realized that nothing I'd done was useful, and started over again in November. This was later than I would have preferred, but not the end of the world. On a 4 unit class, I spent approximately 20-30 hours on my outline, over the course of the semester. I suspect this skews to the heavier side, but I could be wrong. I say this to warn you: it is easy to underestimate how long this process takes, especially first semester 1L year. I recommend starting in early to mid-October.
I don't recommend starting earlier- its hard to figure out the big picture of your courses when you're still trying to figure out what the hell is going on. As a 2L, I outlined in the last 2 weeks of the semester. That was about perfect for my purposes.

Here's What Works for Me: Candidly, this is how I outline. No one would give me a straight answer when I was a 1L, so I've done my best to explain my system. If it doesn't make sense, feel free to ask for clarification. There will be 2L and 3L readers that think I am full of crap- they may be on to something, but this is the system I have worked out:

  1. First, I grab the professor's syllabus*: He writes the test, so I figure he probably knows whats important. I use the syllabus as the framework for my outline. So, if Section I on the syllabus is "Personal Jurisdiction"- guess what is Section I in my outline?

  2. Then, I grab my book: I take the assigned reading, and I go through section by section, incorporating it into my baby outline. If it is bolded in the book, it goes into the outline. I add each case as well, noting the casebook page for each case.

  3. Then, I grab my class notes: I go through my class notes and fill out the "meat" of my outline. I like doing things in this order because, once I've incorporated my class notes, I can really see where the gaps in my learning are. This is also a great way to check (a) that you have all the class notes, and (b) see graphically what the prof has focused on.

  4. Then, I incorporate my reading notes: My reading notes fill in the gaps where my lecture notes are missing stuff. For cases, I include a bullet point or two summarizing the reasoning or significance of the case, and a quick byline that reminds me what the case is about. When I am feeling particularly anal-retentive, I make sure that each case is labeled with the page number of the reading material it is on (disclaimer: I have never used this feature).
    For example: Hawkins v. McGee (hairy hands case), CB 321
    - Damages should be difference between what was bargained for and what was recieved.
    - Pain and suffering are not compensable here because pain and suffering are part of the deal for surgery.
    - It is way too easy to make a masturbation joke here.

  5. Finally, I "synthesize": Every prof will tell you to do this. I am not entirely clear on what it means, but here's what I do: I go through my outline, and I read it, top to bottom. I go section by section, and I re-write. During this stage, I do a lot of condensing- this is helpful because (a) it helps me to recognize recurrent themes in the course, and (b) it makes my outline less unwieldy. Often, this is where I discover that there are some unanswered questions in my notes- I start to realize what I don't understand, and what I have a good handle on.
    More generally at this point in the game, I try to figure out what each case stands for, and the major themes of each section. Looking at the notes, I ask: what was the point of including this case? (note: this is differnet than "what was the point of this case?") I edit my outlines frequently, and re-read them frequently- outlines are all about the process of outlining, so this is basically review, channeling my OCD tendencies into something productive.

  6. Last but not least, I share: This is not a required step, but it is often very helpful. Once I have a solid outline (or at least a solid outline section), I go through it with someone else. Often, in talking about the material, we each tease out new questions. Two heads are better than one, in many cases, but be careful: just copying someone else's outline is often more confusing than helpful.
That's what I do. Tables of contents, color codings, and Advanced Outlining will be covered in Outlining 102: Oh My God How Is It Thanksgiving?! ....But you should do what works for you.

Happy outlining!

*Why does that sound so dirty?

Monday, September 07, 2009


From my mailbox: A writer described an awkward situation with gunners and people who argue with gunners and tension mounting in a 1L section and ended with a general question about appropriate classroom participation level.

If you have to ask, you may be over-participating.

Keep your "head down" in class for a week or so... only answer if called on. Listen to your peers for that week -- I mean really listen, don't think of counter-arguments or clever retorts. In your head, categorize the comments they make as follows: helpful/responsive; helpful/tangential; unhelpful/tangential. In future, make sure your own comments fall mostly into the first category and occasionally into the second.

I am a fan of class participation; I do not think it makes you a gunner just because you contribute to the class discussion. But make sure you actually contribute something.

Remember, you can't make your reputation in law school by any single comment in class, but you can sure as hell break it. If you really want the rep as the smartest guy in the room, shut the heck up and ace the exams.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Orientation: Open Thread

How long is it?
What did you do?
What did you wear?
What did others wear?
How many times did you hear the words: "You'll find what works for you."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Reality check

This blog has historically tried to be positive -- realistic, but positive -- about law school. When the founders of this blog started it in 2006, the legal market was very different, but even then those of you who dreamed of BigLaw were cautioned that law school rank and grades mattered.

If you are considering law school and think that its the golden ticket in this economy, know that law firms have trimmed their summer associate programs for 2009, delayed start dates, and some are canceling summer programs for 2010. This is in addition to the mass lay offs that often affect even first year associates.

If you're thinking "well this post isn't about me, because I want a [small/ mid-sized/ family/ public interest/ clerkship] position," ask yourself where do you think all those folks with almost-stellar credentials who cannot get work in BigLaw are going to end up?*

I'm not telling you not to go to law school. I just ask you to knock the stars out of your eyes and look very seriously at what you're getting into and make sure you know what you want out of it.

(* See Massachusetts)

Monday, August 03, 2009

(Almost) FREE law school supplements! HERE!

Welcome to the First (and probably only)
Wish I Would Have Known Law School Supplement Give Away
(some restrictions apply)

  • Comment below to list the supplements (MAX 3) you would like.
  • Then EMAIL ilovebutterflyfish at with shipping information.
  • First come, first served. I only have one copy of each. Limit THREE books per address.


1. These books are not totally free.
When I receive your email, I will send a request for PayPal payment to offset the cost of shipping/packaging/handling. I think $5 each book is fair... I'll probably actually lose money at that rate.

2. I want these books to go to a law student who will use them this year.
So please don't pick the books you're pretty sure you can turn around on Amazon for the quickest profit, mmmk?

3. Limit THREE to an address.

And now, the books:

Aspen Examples&Explanations

  • Civil Procedure (Fifth Ed.) Glannon
  • Criminal Law (Third Ed.) Singer & LaFond
  • Evidence (Fifth Ed.) Best
  • Property (Second Ed.) Burke & Snoe
  • Torts (Third Ed.) Glannon

  • Introduction to the Law of Real Property (Third Edition) Moynihan & Kurtz
  • Problems and Answers: Estates in Land and Future Interests (Third Edition) Makdisi (Probably the hardest thing to understand in property law, this book was so approachable that I didn't need to relearn this area of the law for the bar exam.)
  • Learning Criminal Law as Advocacy Argument (complete with Exam Problems and Answers) By John Delaney (I preferred this for Crim over the E&E!)

  • Civil Procedure (21st Ed.) Steven Emanuel
  • Wills, Trusts, and Estates (7th Ed.) Peter Wendel. Keyed to Dukeminier/Johanson/Lindgren/Sitkoff casebook.
  • Crunchtime: Corporations (2nd Ed.) Steven Emanuel

Case Summaries:
  • High Court Case Summaries -- Keyed to Sullivan's Constitutional Law casebook -- 15h Ed.

  • How to do your best on law school exams (complete with problems and answers) (Third Revised Ed.) John Delaney.
Legal Skills
  • Synthesis: Legal reading, reasoning, and writing. (Second Ed.) Schmedemann & Kunz

Books requested on 8/3/09 may go out as early as 8/4/09!
This was wildly successful, huh?

Disclaimer: none of these is the current editions. Editions listed above! They may in fact be two editions out of date. But most of this law has not changed in many years... the companies push out new editions with trivial changes each year to keep prices high. These are used books -- most are gently used, with little highlighting and few margin notes -- but they are used all the same. As is, all warranties expressly disclaimed, and whatever other legal mumbo jumbo you want to throw in here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Originally posted at Jansen / No.634. Reposted with permission.

Huma is right – I remember reading blawgs during the summer before law school and not knowing what the heck certain terms meant. Here’s a quick rundown of things that confused me, most of which are from the “definitions” page of No.634.
  • ABA: American Bar Association.
  • Appellant: A party to a lawsuit who appeals a losing decision to a higher court in an effort to have it modified or reversed. The person who won is called the Appellee.
  • ATL:, which is the legal world’s equivalent to TMZ.
  • Bar Review (Activity): a semi-formal gathering of law students at local pubs. Bar review is held weekly, and is an almost exclusively 1L-event. A few months into the semester, two types of people will still attend bar review: those have a really strong set of law school friends and those who have no friends outside of law school. Individual sections will also have weekly bar gatherings, usually on Fridays.
  • Bar Review (Publication): a libelous publication at UMN law school. This is how UMN students find out where the next Bar Review (activity) will be held.
  • Biglaw: refers to large, private firms.
  • Blawg: A law-related blog. These come in a variety of forms that include the personal blawgs of law students, professor blawgs, attorney blawgs, fictional blawgs, judges, and scandal sheets.
  • Briefing: A semi tedious way that first year law students summarize cases. A case brief typically consists of the case title, procedural posture, holding, and a summary of facts. After first semester most students begin book briefing.
  • Civil Procedure: A typical first year course that deals with the procedural rules used for civil (as opposed to criminal) cases in Federal Courts.
  • Clinic: a law school program providing hands-on-legal experience to law school students and services to various clients. (read on Wiki)
  • Discussion: Lecture. Professors, especially those presenting speeches/talks, will often refer to their speech as a “discussion.”
  • FPP: Federal Procedure & Practice. A legal treatise on Civil Procedure. It’s brilliant, and available on Westlaw.
  • Gunner: The over-eager, inconsiderate person in every law school class that talks over her peers and monopolizes class time. The cliché is: “If after the first semester, you don’t know who the class gunner is, then it’s you.” See video.
  • Hornbook: A legal treatise. These are long enough to be unhelpful unless you are utterly lost in the class. Remember, you don’t get any extra points for mentioning things that the professor did not cover in class. The most useful legal treatise is the FPP, which is available on Westlaw.
  • Interest Meeting: Free Lunch. For the first semester at UMN law, student organizations hold “interest meetings” or sponsor talks almost every day during the lunch hour. This means free pizza. Towards the end of the semester when people are feeling obese and/or sick of pizza, the student organizations will try to entice you with Quiznos mini-subs and Holy Land food. Sometime during second semester you will realize that a hour in the middle of the school day is more valuable than the free food.
  • Justice: an appellate judge, the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the U. S. Supreme Court, a member of a Federal Court of Appeal, and judges of any of the various state appellate courts.
  • Law Review: Typically the most prestigious journal at any law school.
  • Law Revue: A theatrical/comedy troupe of law students (the most famous is at NYU). At UMN this is called T.O.R.T.
  • LexisNexis: an online research system (like Westlaw) that you get access to as a 1L at UMN. Some law schools do not give Westlaw/Lexis access to first year students. Lexis contains cases, treatises, a legal dictionary, statutes, and more. Do not buy supplemental books that contain statutes or restatements until you check if they are on Westlaw/Lexis first. Lexis offers reward points for research. It is very easy to rack up points and redeem them for Starbucks giftcards, & etc.
  • Lunch: priming for CivPro (Stella’s definition) Reading assignments a few hours before class will seem unthinkable until your second month in school.
  • Mandatory: Optional, unless you are specifically told what will happen if you don’t do the “mandatory” thing. A way that UMN tries to scare 1Ls into attending events is to “take attendance.” This stops working second semester when the 1Ls realize that nothing happened to the “rebels” from first semester.
  • Nutshell: A Spark-Note-like study aid for a given legal subject. These are more useful than hornbooks, but tend to oversimplify the law.
  • OCI: On campus interviews. This happens during the beginning of your second year, and is supposedly a “disaster” for those who are not in the top of the class.
  • Petitioning: The application process to get onto a legal journal. At UMN, it starts after spring semester finals.
  • Procedural posture: what happened to get the case to where it is. Who won below? Who appealed?
  • Restatements: Restatements of law are treatises on legal subjects, published by the American Law Institute. Many restatements are eventually codified into law, and your professors (especially in Contracts) will probably assign portions of a restatement.
  • SSG: Structured Study Group, a tutorial session at UMN led by an upper-year student.
  • Sincerely: boilerplate
  • Snark: Legalese for “bitchy
  • Talk: Lecture
  • Torts: A typical first year class. This is the blood, guts, and hilarity class. On Wikipedia: Tort law is a body of law that addresses, and provides remedies for, civil wrongs not arising out of contractual obligations. Typical tort cases include assault, battery, slip-and-fall, car accidents, etc.
  • T.O.R.T.: Theater of the Relatively Talentless. The UMN equivalent to law revue. See Website.
  • Westlaw: an online research system (like Lexis) that you get access to as a 1L at UMN. Some law schools do not give Westlaw/Lexis access to first year students. Westlaw contains cases, treatises, a legal dictionary, statutes, and more. Do not buy supplemental books that contain statutes or restatements until you check if they are on Westlaw/Lexis first.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Open thread

Questions and requests for posts? Post them here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Law School as seen on Youtube

First up: at the end of first year Constitutional Law, you will find this video to be hilarious. Really. The Con Luv students from the UVA Libel show knocked this out of the park.

Second: my favorite song about law school. I played this at least once per exam period. Yes, of course the song is an exaggeration, but it has enough truth to make it very funny to me.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Round up of pre-L advice

Ok, Pre-Ls: you're getting ready to get started. You might be moving, buying books, looking at that tuition statement, second guessing your decision and freaking out. You're not alone. So to give you something to do this week before orientation, I thought I'd round up what others have said about law school.

Some of these are older posts by those who have since left law school and the world of blogging, but are no less relevant. I've tried to select advice posts that don't directly contradict each other, as well as posts that are funny or painfully true or both.

Advice from this site:

Ubiquitous Top Tens:

Other Advice:

Five tips for your summer before law school. Jansen, No.634.

Advice if you want to start a law school blog. He's absolutely right about the anonymity. You don't have to be eponymous, and googlenonymousness is good in general, but write as if you fully expect your classmates to read it. Because they will. Three Years of Hell.

Some advice from a guy who turned a law blog into a book. Jeremy Blachman

Landing a 747. All Against All

Advice for your first summer job. Nicolle.

Laugh. The Best of Wings and Vodka.

Re: Gunners. This is Gunning. Don't be that guy. Being prepared for class, answering questions correctly when called on, working hard and trying to do your best on exams is NOT Gunning.


Ten bad reasons to attend law school. Barely Legal (Actually, just read that whole blog.)

Death of law school naivety. Law Bitches.

What it takes to get hired in BigLaw. Who Owns the Fox.


LSAT blog. Wish this guy was around when I was prepping.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Law review write on competitions

Every year around this time, my blog gets inundated with variations on searches for "law review write on". I wrote on to law review, made E-board, and got published (which is a bigger deal at some schools than at others--our law review only publishes three student Notes a year).

My Advice:

Buy Volokh's book or click this link for tips from Academic Legal Writing.

Read it.


You're welcome.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Advice to a New Lawyer on their first day

I wrote this to a friend of mine who was about to start her first lawyer job. Looking back, I think that this is the advice I would give anyone about to begin life as a newbie attorney. Or, if nothing else, I wish someone had told me this before I started my first job.
Today’s your first day.

I am venturing a guess that you may be suffering from a touch of anxiety. If you say no, I’m just going to think that you are lying…I’ve been where you are standing.

Knowing the process you’ve gone through to get to where you are about to go, anxiety in any form is totally understandable. You can’t always play it safe, in other words, you have to take a leap without knowing what may be beneath you. Now it’s time to take that first step into this, the unknown fray.

You are walking into a situation where you have an excellent pedigree. Every journey you’ve taken in the past has led to this first foray into the professional world. Put it another way: you’ve been educated, you’ve trained and now, you are ready.

Here is my advice to you, the new attorney, on your first day: Take risks. Ask questions. Do not fear being wrong. Let the fear of failure motivate you to greatness. Be headstrong but do not be stupid. Don’t judge your position with any of your friends or colleagues, only you can determine whether or not you are in the right situation.

As you look at the list of suggestions I have made above, you will likely see what you’ve heard from the countless number of voices that you have sought counsel from. Now, I hope to impart on you something unique.

You are about to be on the bottom of the professional food chain. It’s likely that in this illustrious position, when you make a mistake, you hear about it as if you have just committed a mortal sin. Finding positives in a career choice can be daunting when this is what you are faced with day in and day out. This advice is simple: find something that you do in your job that sets you apart from everyone else and treasure it. Live in this moment when you know you are on the absolute top of your form. Finally, do everything you can to get back to this place as often as possible.

This is what keeps me coming back day in and day out. This is what makes me know I want to be a lawyer.

There are going to be long stressful days ahead. As the new attorney, the one who doesn’t know the ins and outs, you will likely face mountains of adversity. I have complete faith that you will successfully confront whatever comes your way.

You are going to be great.