“If all that were necessary to achieve a good grade were finding the right outline, there would not be much value in taking the course — indeed, there would not be much value in law school beyond the credential.”

February 14th, 2012

Jonathan Adler writes about students using professional outlines.

I have no problem with outlines or other supplemental material if used properly. Every year I make a point of recommending supplemental material that I believe students will find helpful and of explaining how such material (including commercial outlines) can be used most productively.   I referred to outlines in some of my classes as a student.  Yet as I explain to my students every year, I don’t believe commercial or web-based outlines are a substitute for reading and digesting the material or preparing one’s own outline of a course.

When I was in law school, after my 1L year, I relied heavily on commercial outlines. My crappy 1L grades were due directly to professors scaring the crap out of me and telling me that commercial outlines were EVIL. I stopped outlining in 2L. I would always read from the textbook, and make margin notes (how I wish Kindle textbooks existed back then). I stopped taking notes in class by 3L. I would just scribble stuff in the margins that seemed relevant. For the exam, I would re-read the text (all the pages assigned for class at least), and focus on margin notes. Then I would read several commercial sources available. I liked black letter outlines, and example and explanations series. If there were books of multiple choice/essay questions, I would do those too. The Law Review had a file of recent outlines (and people passed them around freely, so membership was not a barrier). I would usually read those. With that strategy I graduated Magna Cum Laude.

Adler is disappointed that there are many errors in the outlines. I suppose that means he expects his students to understand everything 100% correctly, and that everyone should get a 100% (or close to it) on the exam. I’m not so concerned if my students make a mistake in their outline.

That’s why I’m figuring out how to foster a collaborative outline via a blog/wiki where I can see and correct errors in advance.