Sometimes, law school feels like it’s made up of reading, reading, and more reading. While the reading is important, it’s not the only facet of law school success. You also need to pay close attention to the in-class lecture and strive to take complete, clear notes each day. The lectures are an opportunity for you to clarify your understanding of the reading and get insight into what your professor expects you to know for the exam. The lectures should help you discover your specific professor’s understanding of the key rules and the way he or she is likely to test those rules, which in turn can help you in your exam preparation.
So taking good notes is important, but what if you’re walking out of class each day with a jumble of incomplete thoughts instead of a concise summary? Well, first, make sure you’re well-prepared for each class. It will be easier to follow along and recognize the relevant concepts if you’ve completed your reading and reviewed your case briefs prior to class. Second, find a balance between being a stenographer and not writing down enough. Pay particular attention to the key rules that each case illustrates and make sure your notes contain enough context so that you’ll understand them if you review them at a later date. Lastly, at the end of each class, summarize the lecture by asking yourself “what was the most important thing I learned?” Taking a minute to recap the key concepts at the end of each class will help you organize your thoughts and digest what you learned.
If you’re really struggling with note-taking, you may want to implement a different system to improve your skills. The Cornell Note-Taking Method is well suited to the law school classroom and can help you organize your notes for each class. To use this method, simply divide a piece of paper into two columns – one narrow and one wide. Take notes during class in the wide column. As soon as possible after class, reduce your notes to key words and phrases in the narrow column. Reducing and synthesizing your notes is also an opportunity for you to ask questions and get clarification on concepts. Finally, at the bottom of the page, summarize the notes in your own words in one or two sentences.
Try to be actively engaged in each and every class to ensure that you’re taking complete notes and getting the most you possibly can out of each lecture.