Welcome to my Law blog specifically intended as an aid to law students. I will post comments and white papers, from time to time, and I am happy to carry on conversations with students who are in need of help in law school.

I am most conservative and appropriate in my approach so if you comment and/or have questions to ask, please do so with an equal degree of appropriateness.

I am a Professor of Law at Concord Law School, an Internet Law School located in Los Angeles, though I live, teach and otherwise work out of Lakewood, Colorado, resting up against the foothills just west of Denver.





I have no set schedule of posting, but I hope you will check in from time to time.


Friday, January 15, 2010

14 - The Ten Minute, Memorized Outline

When I was in law school, I did not do well for the first year and a half. In fact, I was so dejected, I was ready to quit. I was now going to have to AVERAGE higher on the exams at the end of the semester than any grade I had previously received, just to stay in school. There were a number of reasons for this, but it is important that I took personal responsibility for my failings. I just didn’t know all of the things I have told you in this blog.
I remember standing at the copier in the library at the beginning of that semester thinking it was time to admit my failure, pack up my family and begin the long trek across country. As I stood there, an acquaintance came up to me and asked how things were going and I related to him what I was thinking. He said that he had heard that I wasn’t doing very well with grades and his study group wanted to ask me to join them. I explained that I had to work and really couldn’t devote the time that a study group required and I didn’t want to be an anchor around his group’s neck. He let me know that his group had talked about that so I could just come and observe to see how they did things. Keep in mind, this was not someone who was a close friend, but rather was one with whom I was acquainted. Also bear in mind that at law schools, there can be great deal of grade competition, so being asked to participate was almost unheard of. So with profound thanks, I agreed and began attending. Using what I learned from this group, I went from my previously described predicament to the Dean’s List for my last three semesters. Here is what I learned:
There were five students in this group. There were four courses so one student for each course and one student to be a project coordinator – to arrange for meetings, merge documents, etc. At the beginning of a semester, each of the four students was assigned a course and commenced immediately to construct a course outline and a deadline was set. At each meeting each student would be held accountable for his progress, the outlines were critiqued and thereafter the “course” students went back and re-worked the outline along with the assistance of the project coordinator. Eventually, based upon an agreed deadline, the outlines were approved. The next event was to “boil” down each outline so that it could be memorized and then rewritten in ten minutes. To do this, from the comprehensive outline came a skeleton outline. The skeleton was memorized by the use of acronyms. For example, intentional torts, was recognized as having a number of torts: Assault, battery, false imprisonment, trespass to chattel, conversion, emotional distress, trespass to land, nuisance. The acronyms would be taken from the first letter of each intentional tort: a, b, f, c (chattel), c, e, l (land) and n and a sentence for intentional torts was created. For example, “At bedtime Fred came (and) conquered Ed’s lack (of) nerve.” It doesn’t have to be pretty, just easy to memorize and remember. And of course, a rule statement for each intentional tort must still be memorized. Also, for each intentional tort, there were a number of other things that would have to be inserted in the outline that should be remembered and for which an acronym sentence constructed. In intentional torts that is pretty easy because many things to be remembered are the same and are derived from the elements of the rule.
Once everything was completed, the students spent the rest of the semester practicing writing the outline so that it could be done with ease in ten minutes. At exam time (we used blue books), when the proctor said to turn over the exams and begin, the first thing these people did was to write out the memorized outline. They had a crutch for the exam that virtually assured them that they would not miss many, if any, issues or sub-issues. It took all of the pressure off.
Of course, I still had to do my reading, etc., but the result was that I moved to near the top of my class, graduated, passed the bar, practiced law, was hired to teach law and now I am enjoying what I do as I wait for my time in the profession to come to an end.
Give it a try.
For now, this will end the Succeeding in Law School section, though I am sure I will come back to it in time. In fact, let me know what you think and if you have any tips or would like for me to address any particular matter in this area. From here, it is my plan to begin sections on criminal law, torts, contracts, business organizations and trial advocacy. I’ll concentrate on the first three for awhile. Best of luck “Succeeding in Law School!”
Professor Doug Holden
© 2010 Douglas S. Holden. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Great story and excellent advice. I was where you were at the copier right before the classmate walked up to you - - except my classmate didn't walk up. And I did have to pack it up.

    So very many fond memories of law school. I miss it so very much. Next time I get a chance, I'll definitely follow more advice like you've given here. The competition tho is so dramatic among students.. and the pressue for the one final exam is immense.

    But, that's law school.

  2. I have been telling that story for a long time and get similar comments. Sorry you were not able to continue, but it is not too late.

    Professor Holden

  3. Advice?? If possible, could you explain how the study group was able to study the outline without the course being complete until the end of teh semester? Did they tweak it as they went and then printed (section by section)? I am very interested in the process of your old study group? I have two friends, I study with but they use old outlines. I have average grades and I am very interested in how to get this process going. Thank you

  4. Well, this group met about 3 times a week -- they spent hours together. I think it took about a third to half the semester to get the outlines put together. Then they discussed and memorized. Because of my work schedule, family schedule, class schedule and some social/personal obligations, I could not participate with them. I had to do all of this on my own.

    I prepared my outlines from the table of contents first. Then I used a study aid -- Gilberts or something like that, to tweak it. The guys in the study group tweaked as well through a semester.

    I planned virtually every minute of every day and did a lot of my work after everyone had gone to bed -- I didn't want to cheat my kids. My wife was great and very supportive. This learned discipline has served me well to this day.

    The biggest problem most students have is fretting about the right way to do this rather than just jumping in. It is fine to use old outlines, but the more you do yourself, the better off you will be. If you are sold on how your friends are doing things, then join them and get on with it. If not, then, like me, you will have to do it yourself. A successful study group will spend 6-9 hours a week together.

    Don't kid yourself about the commitment to time. Most students convince themselves they are putting in the productive time, but they really aren't.

    I was married with two small kids and I had to work to make ends meet. So I know what you and other students are going through. I was committed to law school. That and the Grace of God, brought me through. I lived on 4-5 hours sleep a night. I still do!

    Don't worry about average grades. Commit yourself to really knowing the material. Your grades will always bear a direct relation to how well you know the material. It was a big revelation to me when I came to grips with that.

    Everything turned around when I had memorized my outlines and my rules and followed IRAC closely.

    I hope this is helpful.

  5. Thank you so much! How many acronyms did you end up with per class? I often have too many (so I feel) and wanted tour advice. Your blog is amazing!

  6. Actually, there were a bunch. What ever it takes to get it all memorized.

  7. I am in the exact same boat now. I have a 2.68 and see no hope. I work hard and I real mean hard but somehow I do below par. I make A's in all my writing classes but have made only two Bs, and one A in traditional exam classes. When did you start memorizing, how early out? I understand and discuss the material well with study members and often do the ten minute outline. This is my dream, but I am crushed. I am trying to be positive but see no hope in improving and with this economy and how politics work in my state, I feel it's hopeless in getting a job. I used to have a lot of confidence. Basically, I just need some advice. What am I doing wrong? I've met with my teachers and did not get much for suggestions in improving. Thank you. Your blog has honestly helped me hold on while in law school.

  8. Hello. Actually, it sounds like you are doing fairly well. Maybe you are being too hard on yourself?

    Without talking to you more directly, it is hard to say where you are going wrong. If you want, I can be reached at douglas_holden@concord.kaplan.edu.

    I didn't know about the memorization program until after I had finished the first half of my second year - I think. The key is to start early - the first day - to establish your outlines. I finished my course outlines usually withing a few weeks of the start of the semester. Then I memorized and wrote my outlines from memory at least once a day. I would start at the beginning and write the outline from memory until I couldn't remember something. Then I spent time working on that and then I would start the program all over again.

    Of course, I would keep up with my reading assignments and I would also make sure that I understood general concepts.

    Every time I came across a rule that was relevant, I would write it on an index card and carry it with me until I could recite it without hesitation, from memory. I would place the rule at the appropriate place in my outline.

    Virtually all my time was spent on the required reading and on the outline process.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Best regards,