Monday, October 11, 2010

On Outlining

If you talk to most law students as their first semester starts to roll along, you'll probably encounter the subject of "outlining." It's a topic particularly near and dear to my heart because currently I'm mired in the practice of doing said outlining for my in-class practice midterm in Contracts. Which is tomorrow. >.<

Don't fault me though, I spent all break doing Torts outlining. I've been darn productive.

Anyhow, back to outlining.

It's an interesting paradox that my perception is that most law students produce documents which really don't look anything like the outlines of 5th grade, neatly typed up with happy little bullet points, and a concise 2-3 pages long. No, no. In law school, ones outline is actually a lumbering behemoth scores of pages long, encompassing every shred of knowledge you've managed to accumulate on the subject from your book, your notes, your friends notes, commercial resources, practice exams. When you work on The Outline, you do so with the prayer that successfully making the thing will be equivalent to successfully finishing the exam. All of us (or so I think) at Friendly School of Law grin and laugh at the labor and ultimate product being sunk in to the outlines, but really, just like neighbors who have just watched each other receive deliveries of various expensive home appliances, we quietly catalog each other's new assets and ponder how ours stack up.

In all of my classes, we're allowed full open notes, something of a blessing and a curse. Generally, there is no scenario in which using every resource one could during an exam period can lead to good things. The Law, even the tiny little slivers of it that get labeled and shunted into 1L schedules, like "Criminal Law" or "Torts," is huge. Unfortunately, exams are short. In the space of the 3-4 allotted hours, you could simply get lost in all of the theoretically helpful material that the no-limit rule allows you to bring. Which would be bad. Particularly if you were intending to do other things. Like write the exam. It seems to be a case as if all of us neighbors buying home appliances have unlimited money and can get whatever we like. Which is great, until you realize that you've now got to figure out where you're going to put your swimming pool-sized dishwasher.

I don't mean to say that I think that large or long outlines are a bad thing. My torts outline isn't even halfway finished (which is to say it's not entirely finished for this first half of the semester), but it's already something like 14 pages. I think the incredibly underrated key is organization. If you can actually _find_ something in that 100 page monster of yours, you'll be a much happier camper than if you're busy flipping through the whole thing page by page...

Meh. Nevertheless, at the moment it's not so much a big deal as it is a personal goal to get underway. Maybe I'll be slightly less miserable in November for doing some of this work now.

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