How to Manage Your Notes in Law School
Note-taking is a useful skill for most students, but it's practically pre-requisite for law students. Learning to take good and thorough notes is one thing all law students should master, and using those notes to study for exams will be the difference between a pass and a fail. Here are four tips to help you make the most of your law school lectures and turn a jumble of chicken-scratch into a set of concise, useful information.
- Student Tips
By now we're sure that you know how important it is to attend lectures and pay attention while you're there. But are you taking good notes? Note-taking is a skill that can be mastered, but it takes discipline and organization. Many students think that good note-taking means writing down EVERYTHING the lecturer says, but unless you've mastered short-hand, that's nearly impossible and mostly unnecessary. Good note-takers know how to distill the information presented and only record what is relevant and necessary to remember. And good notes will form the basis of good study – you should be able to convert your notes into study-guides and cheat sheets that will direct your revision and prepare you for exams. Follow these four guidelines to learn good note-taking skills and make the most of your lectures.
1. Write an outline
Whether you do it during the lecture or after class, it's always a good idea to outline your notes. Some people find that taking notes in outline format is the easiest way to stay focused, but this style doesn't work for everyone and can be difficult if the lecturer rambles or if the class includes a lot of discussion. Even if you outline during your note-taking, it can be useful to go back and fill in the outline or move things around. Maybe your professor mentioned a law or court ruling in a later section that actually belongs in your first outline point, or perhaps once you look back on your notes, you'll realize that they are more concise outlined in a different way. Either way, it's not enough to take notes – you need to return to them after class and later when you begin to study for exams. Having a clear, organized outline will help you understand and process the material.
2. Try to make your notes as complete as possible
But don't attempt to take down the lecture verbatim. This is where listening skills come in handy – pay attention to how your professor presents the material. Does he mention when a case or legal statute will be on a test? Does she come back to a certain ruling repeatedly? Make note of key words, specific cases, or definitions.
Recommended reading: How to study in law school?
3. Use a style that works best for you
Maybe you can outline during the lecture, or perhaps you prefer to take Cornell Style Notes. Whatever you do, find a style of note-taking that works for you and stick with it so that you can easily review your notes and work to condense them later. Again, don't try to get every word written down. Don't worry about proper grammar – condense sentences into phrases when you can. And lucky for you, law terminology often lends itself nicely to abbreviation – just make sure that you keep track of how you've abbreviated!
4. Pick the right writing/typing tool
There's a lot to be said for traditional pen and paper notes (and several studies suggest a link between writing and memory), but legal studies are often dense and full of complicated terminology which means that a laptop might be more effective. That is if you can touch-type quickly! There are loads of note-taking programs out there now, and it's worth it to explore your options. Check out Microsoft OneNote, Evernote, and Google Keep. But remember, if you choose to use a laptop, turn off your internet or block distracting websites – you won't get any note-taking done if you're checking Facebook and updating your Instagram. If you still prefer pen and paper, or if your professor has banned them (too many people browsing Reddit during class!), consider investing in an interactive notebook and pen system, like Livescribe. These digital pens and integrated notebooks allow students to take written notes while recording the lecture, and many of the systems can upload to your computer where you can review your notes while listening to the lecture again, or even skip ahead to a specific section or sentence.
One final note: don't forget to review your notes. Make it a habit to look over your notes after class and add in anything you might have missed. Go over your notes before the next class so that you can link the new lecture with the old. And of course, don't forget to return to your notes before tests – what's the point of filling countless notebooks or word documents, only to ignore them come exam-time.
Read more about studying law.
The Keystone Team is comprised of experienced educators and advisors dedicated to providing valuable resources and advice to students all over the world.
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