Should I Include Cases in My Law School Outline? For most first year courses, the majority of your assigned reading is cases. This poses an interesting issue for many first year law students who are trying to figure out what exactly should go into their outline. This is because you have a ton of cases to read. But then you go to class and barely talk about cases. Or, your professor says one or two things about each case but then delves into hypotheticals. Or, your professor talks about cases nonstop but the final exams don’t seem to have anything to do with your cases.
So, “Should I Include Cases in my Law School Outline?”
Our opinion is that cases can — and should — definitely be included in your law school outline. But don’t go overboard!!
It can be helpful to know the seminal cases on a specific point of law. It can also be a good idea to mention a case by name in an exam answer! For example, in Torts, if you have a question about a foreseeable plaintiff, it makes you look better if you can cite the Palsgraf case by name! Or if your professor really focused on the different approaches that courts take to intentional infliction of emotional distress claims, it is helpful to know some of the case names that go with these approaches. It makes you look better as a student! (Note that you can, however, get A’s in most law school classes without ever citing a single case. So, don’t go crazy with it!). We recommend that you remain aware of the important cases nonetheless though, for the reasons we just mentioned.
(If you barely talked about a case in class, don’t include it in your outline!)
However, do not include case briefs in your outline!
To be more specific, you should only have a few sentences about the case. We encourage the majority of our students to include a phrase or short sentence that will help them trigger the relevant facts. And then a sentence or two to explain the rule of the case. Most of the time in a law school exam it is sufficient to briefly refer to the relevant case. Or, in the event you are giving more analysis and want to include a case, you are focusing on the rule. Thus, the majority of the information in your outline about a case should be the rule.
So, if you brief every case prior to class (which, by the way, we do not recommend), don’t include a whole brief in your outline. Rather, you should be spending time after class synthesizing your briefs and class notes.
Where do you put a case in your outline?
It is important not to organize your outline around cases! (This is a rookie 1L mistake!). Instead, organize your outline around your syllabus headings. We recommend that you put a case name after the rule that it illustrates. That way, you will associate the case with the rule.
You can see that each case goes under the rule that it illustrates.
You can also see how little of the actual case made it into the outline above! Imagine how much longer it would be if each of the four cases listed had full case briefs instead!
Will I have time to even learn the case names that go with each rule?
Yes, if you take our advice and start outlining early in the semester! This way, you will actually have time to digest, condense, and learn the important cases that go with a rule! It is ideal to spend time each week reviewing your class notes and turning it into an outline. This will help ensure that you can keep the information about all of your cases to two or three sentences.
(By the way, if you want to start outlining early and don’t know how, check out our in-depth post on how to create a law school outline).
This post was co-written by our law school tutor, Meagan Jabbori, and founder of JD Advising, Ashley Heidemann.
Ms. Ashley Heidemann graduated as the number 1 law student out of over 200 students in her class of 2011 at Wayne State University. She now works as a tutor for law students and the bar exam. She also offers a Law School Preparatory Course for students interested in learning the skills necessary to achieve a high GPA in law school.