Wednesday, November 2, 2016

How I Take Notes in Law School


In law school, being successful in classes obviously includes more than simply showing up to classes and listening to the professors. Not only do you have to do your reading and study outside of class, but the note-taking you do inside of class matters a lot as well. Everyone takes notes differently - some people take really thorough notes outside of class and then don't take notes in class at all, some people on take scribbles of notes while they do their readings and then take extensive notes during class, some people give equal effort both in and out of class. There's no right way to do it - just do whatever is right for you. But, despite that little piece of truth, I know that me saying that is less-than-helpful. So I'll show you how I take my notes for class and then you can decide whether or not parts of my note-taking system might work for you.

First things first, I tend to take more extensive notes outside of class than I do in class. Part of the reason for this is that the majority of the reading you will do outside of classes will be reading case law, and I tend to brief every single case that I read. I won't give you any information on how to brief cases here - I've written an entire post on that already! These case briefs tend to take up most of my notes. However, I do write down any other information the book gives me, as well as a few bullet points on the footnotes or follow-up questions also included in the book. Here's an example of what a section of my reading notes look like:

In this screenshot, you can see both bullet-point notes on information, as well as a full case-brief. You might notice that I put the page numbers of the case next to the title of the case I am reading. This helps me quickly locate the full case in the book, so I can easily find it during class for reference. I highly recommend this practice.

You might be wondering, from this screenshot, what program I use to take my notes. I use Evernote for all of my typed notes in law school. To tell you more about Evernote, I'll send you my colleague Nikki's blog - she wrote an entire post about Evernote and why she uses it. Her post is what encouraged me to use Evernote, and I definitely owe Nikki for introducing me to it. Check out her post - it includes some great note-taking tips as well!

In class, I do not type my notes. I have been told by many professors, and believe from personal experience that hand-writing notes is the best way to remember information. However, my class notes are way less-detailed and way less-organized. My goal during class is to write down main points, things I need to remember, and things my professor mentions that weren't in the reading. Overall, I really take notes in class to make sure I stay focused and pay attention. Here is what an example of my notes from in class look like:

Notice that these notes are way less detailed, a little messier, and more general. Then, at some point after class, usually after a few weeks, I will compile these notes into an outline that is a summary of all of my notes and everything I have learned in one document. Here is an example of what that outline looks like:

I like typing up my outlines in Microsoft Word, because I like the format. However, after I work on my outline I make sure to upload it to Google Drive or Evernote, because if my computer crashes mid-semester I definitely do not want to lose my notes and all of the progress I have made throughout the semester. I also recommend waiting until the end of a unit to outline, that way you know what is the most important for that particular part of the class. You don't want to waste more time on one part of your outline than necessary - you spend enough time working on your notes as is.

Overall, that is my note-taking process. I try to be as thorough as possible when I take my notes that way I have all of the information that the professor wants me to know, whether I derived it from the book or from the lecture. I always type out my notes from the reading, and handwrite my notes in class. I do have one class that does not allow laptops, but I just print out my notes for that class. I like to type my reading notes because it saves time and it is cleaner, but if you prefer handwriting then that is equally as valid.

Again, this is only one way of taking and organizing your notes. There are many method's out there. Nikki's post is a great example of one way to take notes, mine gives you another option, and there are more options than just the two of these. Bottom line - just make sure you are taking notes. Then, a style that works for you will develop on its own.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the shout out Bailey!! You've made me think that I might hand write my notes next semester!

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  2. Very interesting blog. Alot of blogs I these days don't really provide anything that I'm interested in, but I'm most definately interested in this one. Just thought that I would post and let you know. hometown pizza menu

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  3. The most mandatory part of taking any lecture is the note making, if you’re really good in noting down the teacher’s words in the easiest way then you surely won’t suffer much problems in future. Great post!

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