law-school-outlineGuest post by Sara Jaspers.

Outliner 4.0 by Storelaw

As a first-year law student, one of the most frustrating aspects of law school is how to structure class outlines in preparation for finals. Outline organization can be difficult juggling the notes taken on readings prior to class, notes taken during class, and consolidating and condensing the ultimate outline you will use to study for the final exam.

My first semester I took extensive notes on anything and everything and then eventually reduced those notes to a separate outline in a separate document. The second semester I switched from using a typical Microsoft Word document to Outliner 4.0 software for taking notes, which has been an immense time-saver.

Categorized notes

Now some people will disagree, and I’ve read some unfavorable reviews online, but I love this software. First of all, it is set up so that notes are categorized. It has pre-set tabs, but I categorized according to three areas that were helpful to me: my notes, class notes, and key points for the final outline which made it easier and more organized to access information.

Pre-set outline specific to your textbook

When you first download the software (which takes maybe ten minutes at the most as it is pretty straight-forward and user-friendly), you are directed to the Storelaw database online by entering the code included when you purchase the software. From the database, you choose from a list of textbooks and download the basic outline of the books you are using. Most popular textbooks used for core classes will be listed; although, now that I am in my second year of law school I find that there are fewer books available in the database for more advanced classes.

Direct links to case summaries online

The software is also set up so that it can link to the cases included in the textbook directly through LexisNexis or Westlaw. However, I should issue a few caveats. My computer runs Vista, and I think this is why I cannot access cases through the software like my other classmates who use Outliner 4.0 are able to (so if anyone has figured out some method, I would be happy to hear from you). It also seems that classmates who use the software and have Mac computers were able to access the cases without trouble, and have fewer technical problems overall.

It’s all a matter of personal preference

Outliner 4.0 made me incredibly more efficient with time spent on outlining my second semester; my only regret is that I did not discover it during my first semester of law school. Although, some of my classmates don’t like the software because they feel it is more time consuming switching through tabs, the various technical problems that occasionally arise, or they are in a class that is not structured according to the order of the textbook.

The software runs about $65 but worth every penny when you consider some of the other more expensive study aids out there. Also, I’ve heard that customer service is ridiculous to deal with if you have technical issues (I’ve never called in, which may explain why I haven’t been able to solve the problem of accessing case summaries), so I would be interested to see if similar software is available that has better customer service and fewer technical problems. [The website has been down for a couple of weeks, with no number to call. -Ed.] But all things considered, as a 1L this made it easier to have a structure for note-taking, which eventually resulted in concise outlines for final exams.

(photo: jazzmasterson)

Sara Jaspers is the Marketing Coordinator for Larkin Hoffman Attorneys in Minneapolis and a second-year law student at Hamline University School of Law.