Writing Great Law Lecture Notes [Study Tips 1/3]studyinglaw
This will be a mini 3 part blog series on study tips.
Essentially it’s what I wished I’d done sooner at university.
This part will be on writing great lecture notes, the next will be on seminar preperation, and the last will be on answer structure. It’s the stuff that’s worked for me in the past, hopefully it will work for you too.
When I first started at uni I made the worst law notes ever. They started out OK; each subject had its own notebook, I wrote down some important quotes by the lecturers, you could actually read what was written… it all went downhill from there. When my notes started looking like a page of spiders who had been drowned in a coffee flood I knew it was time for a change.
My notes weren’t bad when I first started out – they just lacked structure. I just wrote down anything I thought was important. Unfortunately this leaves you with a page of unconnected phrases. When you come to read them back later they’re useless.
You need to have some sort of plan & structure in mind or your notes will be as beneficial as a breakfast of gin and cough syrup before an exam.
You need everything to be nice and organised. One notebook for each subject – just having a general notebook will make finding a certain lecture incredibly hard.
You should also be nice and clear with labelling. At the start of each lecture write down the date and the topic which will be covered.
If you can write information down quickly, accurately and neatly then great. If not then it may be a good idea to type up your notes later (and even if you are neat it’s still a good idea). Make sure you type them up ASAP while you still understand and remember what was said. You should be going over what’s been said in a seminar anyway – typing up notes can be a great way of doing this. It can help you remember and learn the facts law.
You can even do a little bit of extra reading to flesh out your notes. This will earn you a high five from your future self who is about to start exam revision.
Try and explain the concepts in as much detail as possible, but still keep it simple. This will stop you from having to completely relearn a subject.
What should the structure of the notes be like?
As stated above notes should’t just be a jumble of words. Whatever you write down, you should know where it fits into the legal area by looking at your notes. Having good headings will help you out but in your margin you should write keywords. These keywords will help you when reading the notes back later. Let’s say for example you’re at a contract lecture about consideration. Consideration would be your heading, but when you were talking about past consideration you could put that in the margin. So use the margin to pinpoint the legal area.
A crucial skill is being able to tell the important material apart from the waffle. A lecturer may drop a strong hint about what’s in the exam or they may summarise a legal area really well. It’s essential you write these bits down. But they may also tell you a story from when they were in practice, or mention points which although could be interesting, won’t come up in an exam.
You don’t need to write everything down, nor should you. Get the essence of what is said. The lecture should have at least some structure to it, so just follow the structure and paraphrase. Imagine you’re explaining it to your later self. You can’t just write down several words to explain a topic and think “Oh I’ll know what I mean; it’s simple”. With all the law crammed into your brain it’s not always that easy. Think long term!
Using a recording device or your laptop in lectures could also be a great idea. If you’ve got a good recording device it’s a very attractive option. I mean… you don’t need to do any writing! What more do I need to say? However I did find writing stuff down actually helped me learn it and process it as the lecture continued. Not using a recoding devices also forces you to pay attention. It’s easy to get an attitude of “oh well the recorder will get everything so I’ll just look out of the window and think about Batman”.
If your typing speed is decent then writing your notes on a laptop is a really good idea. Typing can potentially be much faster than writing, so you can write a little bit more of what’s said. You can go back and correct typos / add more detail later. This also means you save time when coming to type up your notes – most of the work is done already!
Note taking can be done so in so many way. The above is just one example of a method that could work for you.
What’s your note taking process like? Tell us!