Originally posted: August 16th, 2011
First-Year Outline Obsession
First year of law school offers some significant challenges. Many students find this year to be one of the most difficult years of their academic lives. One common—if not near-universal—response is that of outline obsession: first-year (1L) students tend to get lured into a never-ending attempt to create the perfect outline. This obsession gets fueled by several different players in the first-year scene, including:
- —well-meaning law professors who remember obsessing over their own outlines and reason that, since they did it, it must be the thing to do
- —commercial publishers of law outlines (e.g., Gilbert’s, Emmanuel’s) who have a profit motive for fueling the frenzy
- —second-year (2L) and third-year (3L) law students who, like their professors, subscribe to the it’s-right-because-I-did-it theory
- —other first-year students who are daunted by the amount of material they need to know and grasp onto the notion of outline omnipotence as a way to manage the stress and anxiety of first year of law school
Benefits and Drawbacks
Not surprisingly, there are both benefits and drawbacks relating to obsessing over one’s outline. More to come on both the good and the bad of first-year outlines. . . .
Original posting date: August 17th, 2011
If outlines on the major first-year topics—contracts, torts, criminal law, and so on—were dependably useful, “obsession” would not be the right word to describe the extensive efforts that many first-year (1L) law school students pour into their law school outlines. Unfortunately, for most students, the word is appropriate.
Here are some of the reasons. These reasons are, of course, no secret to anyone, but students often lose sight of these facts during the rush of first year.
- — you get no points and no course credit whatsoever for your outline
- — you are not in the publishing business and probably won’t ever be
- — you can create a 100-page outline and still have virtually no understanding of the law
- — if you are not allowed to use materials such as your outline during the exam for the given subject, then you won’t even have your outline physically available to you when you need it
- — those students who are allowed to use their outlines during an exam generally report that they never actually did use their outlines during the exam because outlines don’t really help one’s analysis of or writing about an issue
Consider Your Goals
In light of the above, the amount of time and effort that goes into the production of extensive first-year outlines is often a bad investment. Certainly, at least a few students do benefit from their outlines, but, as will be discussed in an upcoming article, there’s usually a lot more going on than mere production of an outline when the outline endeavor actually pays off.
Thus, students are advised to consider what their real goals are—learning and understanding the law, succeeding in law school, for instance—before they choose to invest a large portion of their first semester and first year of law school in outlining.
Original posting date: August 18th, 2011
While there is a great deal of downside to the “outline obsession” that tends to overtake first-year (1L) law school students, outlining one’s first-year topics—property, constitutional law, civil procedure, and the lot—can be beneficial. Potential benefits from first-year law outlines include:
- — enhanced memorization / recall of the law: the outline can be used to help students memorize rule statements; this possibility is, of course, the main theoretical justification for making an outline at all
- — increased understanding of the law: the outline—specifically, the process of making an outline—can facilitate a person’s delving deeper into the subject matter; this possibility represents the best opportunity of all to make outlining worthwhile
- — it’s something to do: the outline can become a sort of “lightning rod” that attracts the attention of a student who would otherwise have difficulty concentrating / studying
- — anxiety reduction: some students find that, by working on their outlines, they feel more “in control” of there first-year of law school and therefore less anxious about it
Effective Engagement—Not the Outline Itself—Is the Real Reason to Outline
Notice that all of the above possible benefits to law outlining pertain to the effect of the outline on the student, not the value of the finished product itself. After all, as previously discussed, law students are not in the law publishing business, so a student’s outline will probably never be used again once the final exam ends.
But achieving these desirable effects does not necessarily follow from merely doing an outline. These effects flow from effectively engaging in the process of outlining.
This effective engagement is, in short, the key to making one’s outline efforts worthwhile. Effectively engaging in the outlining process—and the learning process generally—will be the topic of upcoming articles.
Original posting date: August 23rd, 2011
The Development of Mastery
Psychologists report that some children have an innate, self-driven desire to learn and know all there is to know about a field. These children lock onto and pursue a topic with unusual tenacity, pouring hours of unbroken concentration into exploring this topic. The results of this kind of concentration are not surprising: a very high competency in the chosen field.
One phrase that is apparently in current usage as a label for this type of drive is the “rage to master.”
Not Just for Kids
While “child prodigies” appear to have attracted the most study so far, the “rage to master” is not something that is unique to children—or child prodigies. College and law students can also catch fire with an internal desire to know, dominate, master a field. These students are, of course, great at test preparation.
Finding the “rage to master” within oneself for a topic such as the logical reasoning or reading comprehension that is tested on the LSAT or the contracts, torts, evidence, or other law topics that are tested on the bar exam may require some soul-searching. But it’s worth going on this journey, because that fire—the rage to master—is an incredibly powerful mechanism for improvement. More discussion on the rage to master coming soon. . . .
1. PRACTICE. While studying the substantive law is crucial for the essays and MBE, the performance test is all about doing. By the time test day rolls around, the doing — performing — of the performance test should feel like old hat to you.
2. ANSWER THE QUESTION. This is more than half the battle on the PT. Simply stick to what they ask you to do, doing everything they require and no more.
3. JUST DO THE BEST THAT YOU CAN DO, ONE STEP AT A TIME. It’s interesting how widely the model answers can vary from one another; some model answers even contain some significant false statements of law. This variation demonstrates that, as long as you just do the tasks like a competent and thoughtful professional and present your work product in the right package, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got the “right” answer.
4. STAY COOL; DON’T FREAK OUT. The essence of what the PT is testing is how well you can handle uncertainty. If you can simply carve out a reasonable response to uncertainty, you are going to pass. While the other portions call for mastery of the law, the PT is there basically to weed out people who can’t master themselves.
5. KEEP IT SIMPLE. The easiest way to adhere to all of these rules is to adhere to this one. Just be very simple in your approach. If you can’t see the big picture, do a good job on the parts that you can see. If you don’t know what the whole thing should look like, simply do whatever step you do see needs to be done.