Preparing for Class
Reading the material, attending class and taking notes is critical to success in law school. The class lecture should further your understanding of the material, not leave you walking out of the class with no real idea as to its importance or how that class fits into the overall framework of the course. To get the most from each lecture, try a three-step approach to your activities; consider what you do 1) before the lecture, 2) during the lecture, and 3) after the lecture. If you study the material with a different approach at each step, you increase your chances of seeing the "big picture" at the end of the course.
Step 1 - Before the Lecture
Before each class, read the assigned case briefs twice, in order to get a thorough understanding of them. During the first reading, resist the urge to highlight or takes notes; instead, read the case as if it were a short story. This will allow you to get a general sense of the case, and help to create a more focused second reading. During the second reading, feel free to highlight or take notes, as these will be much more focused now that you have a general sense of the case.
Following your readings of the case, actively review each case brief before class by asking:
- Why is this case in this section of the casebook?
- Why did the Court focus on the particular facts (persuasive and non-persuasive) that they did in reaching their decision?
- Why did the Court ignore the other facts?
- What if the facts were different, would the outcome be the same?
Compare the rule in each brief with the rule in the case appearing before it under the same section of the casebook by asking:
- How is this case different from the previous case?
- Does this case change the law as established from the previous case, or merely add to it?
Not only will reviewing each case brief before class help you to better understand the lecture, but it will allow you to feel more comfortable when called on and allow you to be prepared with any questions you may have for the professor.
Step 2 - During the Lecture
Actively work each brief along with the professor's lecture.
Read the professor. Notice:
- What is the professor's lecture style?
- Does the professor "brief" the cases during the lecture?
- How does the professor utilize hypotheticals?
- Does the professor provide you with the rule and the appropriate analytical, approach to applying the rule?
- Do the professor's discussions include black letter law, public policy or both?
Step 3 - After the Lecture
Review and supplement your notes and case briefs while your recollection is fresh. Note the holes and try to fill them in.
If you were confused during the lecture, write out your questions and ask your professor during office hours.
If there is a conflict between what you thought was important/unimportant and what your professor thought was important/unimportant, figure out where your analysis is incorrect.
Lecture Notes - General Tips
Develop a consistent system of abbreviations, symbols, and other shorthand. This will allow you take notes much quicker during class, especially when discussions move rapidly and cover many interconnected topics.
Make sure your notes are complete. Students often leave out class hypotheticals, which are important for critical analysis and may show up on an exam.
Review and supplement lecture notes within 48 hours of the class, while the information is still fresh in memory. It may also be beneficial to type up class notes, as this aides the memorization process and will save you time when outlining.
Periodically evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of your lecture notes for each class. Good note-taking is a skill, and you may need to adjust your style in order to get the most out of your lecture notes.
Lecture Notes - Examples
Your lecture notes should:
- Show transition from one topic to another:
- Identify transitions to different cases, cases that are mentioned as notes or footnotes, or articles contained in the casebook and to policies/history outside the casebook:
case name: Garrett v Dailey
note case: p.46, n. 1
articles: Gilmore article, p. 44
policy: 1964 case-notion of free enterprise. Crt did not want to imply a promise.
- Signal when hypotheticals begin:
- Show areas where you are missing notes ("note holes"):
- Hypo: Uncle says - If you promise to refrain from drinking and smoking until 21, I'll give you ????
- Late 10 minutes to class.
- Called on.
- Q. What promise was enforced?
Q. Was there any consideration for the promise?
- Show how the professor went through the analysis:
Ricketts v. Scothorn
Q. What promise enforce?
A. Promise to give $2,000.
Q. Any consideration for promise?
Q. Is an act alone enough for consideration? What was the act?
A. Quit her job.
Q. What was missing? Bargained for and given in exchange for the promise?
A. Act not required by grandfather.
Q. But the court enforced the promise. Why? What kind of estoppel?
- Identify the promise.
- Ask if there is any consideration for the promise by looking if the action was "bargained for and given in exchange" for the promise.
- If no consideration, then look to the issue of estoppel.
- Show the facts which are "key" to the professor:
As it appears in lecture notes:
Pitts, p. 175:
F: P = sales rep for D. Not on K w/def. period. Co b term at will. 67 yrs old. D term P but gave 1% commission of all sale in territory. After 5 yrs- stop pay.
Translation of lecture notes:
Pitts v. McGraw-Edison Co., p. 175:
Facts: Plaintiff was a sales representative for defendant. Plaintiff did not have a contract with defendant for a definite period. He could be terminated at will. He was 67 years old. Defendant terminated plaintiff but cave him a 1% commission of all soles made in his territory. After 5 years, defendant stopped paying plaintiff.
- Show analytical "tips" given by the Professor:
Key: Did the plaintiff rely and what acts were there?
- Show where you did not understand the lecture:
Difference between promissory and equitable estoppel?
Copyright 1996 by Law School ABCs; Presented at 1996 Law School Admissions Council Conference on Academic Support; adapted and revised by Larasz Moody, Director of Academic Success Programs.