Effective notes can be the difference between law school success and disappointment. While there is no one right way (or wrong way) to take notes in law school, there are a number of things to consider to ensure your notes are comprehensive, effective, and helpful. If you were never an avid note-taker, law school may be a challenge as you try to commit everything to memory; however, applying the following tips to your notes will help you make the most of your time and maximize the benefits of your studying habits.
Choose a Consistent Method
Whether you prefer bulleted lists, highlighted passages, digital notepads, or classic pen and paper, you should identify your note-taking style and master it (and keep that method consistent). Consistency will help you ensure your notes are relevant to your studying needs and contain the information you otherwise might forget. Do not allow yourself to be overwhelmed with the methods of others; you need to utilize a methodology that works for you and facilitate your learning and comprehension of the material. This step will require some trial and error; however, once you settle on a note-taking method, maintaining that methodology will help you better remember essential information and hopefully yield greater success for you in law school.
Be Selective in Your Notes
Though you may feel compelled to write down everything your instructor says or everything featured in the required texts, it is imperative that you resist this impulse. Lines of reasoning, concepts, and important cases are things you should absolutely jot down. Initially you will want to write down everything because you do not know what specifically is important versus was is not. Spending too much time with a focus on transcribing the entire class discussion is a waste of time not only because your peers’ contributions may not be completely accurate or relevant, but because the most valuable learning experiences occur when you actively engage with the material. Part of good note taking is good listening and picking up the important details from the content of a lecture. It is a skill that takes time to develop but if you continue to work at it; you will see that you can hone in your notes to the key details of a case, legal concept and argument without being bogged down by additional non-relevant information.
Taking notes as you read case files or other class materials is a great way to gauge your understanding and better prepare yourself for class. If you want to take this route, be sure to start early. Writing down notes as you read and keeping separate but adjacent notes for class will help you verify your understanding as the class progresses. Personally speaking, I always wrote in the margins of my case books and highlighted the key points, which then enabled me to quickly remember an important detail when I was reviewing my notes or when the matter was discussed in class. Over time, you should see overlap between your reading notes and class notes but if you do not see a connection, you may want to consider speaking with your professor to ensure that you have a full grasp of the concepts and that you are not missing an important detail.
Review Your Notes After Class
Even if you feel comfortable with the material that was discussed, it is important that you review the notes you took shortly after the class ended. The reason that you want to do so is that by doing so, you have reinforced the concept into your mind and it often helps to ensure that you in fact understand the concept. You are better suited to reviewing your notes immediately following a lecture and realizing that you do not understand something so that you can then seek additional assistance to grasp the concept, versus waiting until the week of final exams when you may not remember what you did not understand.