Friday, January 15, 2010
14 - The Ten Minute, Memorized Outline
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.