Class note taking is one of the most important skills to develop in law school. Good notes will help you keep up during class discussions and will also become crucial when it is time to outline and study for final exams. With that in mind, here are ten rules for better law school note taking:
- Choose a method of note taking and stick with it.
There are many options for law school note taking from sophisticated software programs to the old-fashioned paper and pen method. Try some out early on in the semester, but decide quickly which one suits your learning style best and then keep going with it (a good place to start is with GavelNote’s state-of-the-art note taking software specifically for law students).
- Prepare your own notes before class.
Whether you do the classic case brief or something more free-flowing and whether you are using computer software or handwritten notes, use a different color or entirely different pages to separate class notes from your personal notes. As the semester wears on, you should see the two increasingly converging; if not, you’re probably not picking up important concepts and what your professors wants you to focus on. If you are struggling, go to your professor’s office hours to seek clarity.
- Write down important concepts, rules of law, and lines of reasoning.
These things may be difficult to pinpoint at first, but you’ll get better at this as your law school years go on.
- Pay attention to recurring themes in your professor’s lectures.
Does your professor bring public policy into every discussion? Does he or she painstakingly parse words of statutes? When you find these themes, pay special attention and take particularly copious notes as to how the professor’s reasoning is flowing; this way you know what questions to prepare for both for lectures and exams.
- Review your notes after class to make sure you understand what you have recorded.
If something is unclear either conceptually or factually, now is the time to clear it up either with your classmates in a study group or with the professor.
- It is not necessary to write down everything the professor says verbatim.
This holds especially true if you’re using a laptop. It can be tempting to transcribe lectures if you have the typing ability, but you’ll be losing valuable time in which you should be engaging with the material and group discussion. This, after all, is where learning takes place in law school, not simply from memorizing and regurgitating rules and laws.
- Do not write down what your fellow law students say.
Yes, they’re smart and some may even be right, but unless your professor puts her explicit seal of approval on a student’s contribution to the discussion, it’s most likely not worth a spot in your notes. You will not be tested on your fellow law students’ opinions, so there’s no sense in recording them for posterity.
- Do not waste time writing down facts of the case.
All the facts you need to discuss a case will be in your casebook. If particular facts are important, highlight, underline, or circle them in your textbook with a note in the margins to remind you why they are important.
- It is often helpful to review several days of notes at the same time to try to make connections and fill in gaps.
This review process will help you at the time with class discussions and later when you’re outlining and studying for exams.
- Do not forego taking notes because you can get the notes of a classmate.
Everyone processes information differently, so you are always going to be the best person to record notes for your future study sessions. It’s great to compare notes, but your own notes should always be your primary source for studying. This is why commercial outlines and those prepared by previous law students aren’t always the most helpful either. Throughout the semester, your professor gives you a map of what the exam will be like throughout the course; it is your job to record it and study it.