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HannaGrace

How do I take notes in law classes?

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Hello,

I am in my first year of law, Licence 1 ( L1) and I find myself in front of a new way of working, in a big lecture hall, in front of a professor who speaks without dictating most of the time... I find note-taking very difficult because of the new legal vocabulary which is really hard to understand. So I would like to have some tips and tricks on how to take notes in law class?

Thank you very much.

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First year I took all my notes from hand and basically wrote down everything. That was not an efficient approach. In 2L/3L, I took my notes on my laptop over existing CANs I got from upper years. I found that very efficient because you generally knew where the lecture was going already. 

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There's a learning curve that (presumably) every 1L goes through. It may not be the best advice, but because I'm not sure what is I'll just say this: many of my classmates and I did the same thing as conge (although on a computer), and wrote down every word we heard. Later in the semester when we started condensing our notes and preparing for exams we all laughed at how brutal our September notes were. While definitely follow better advice if someone else gives it, I don't think there's anything wrong with taking down extra information that you can delete later when you learn what's actually important. Maybe try looking up case briefs for each case you are assigned if you don't have access to upper year's summaries. I think a good starting point is noticing the organization of them as well as the information deemed relevant. Typically you want to focus on: the facts, the issues, the holding (the decision by the court), and the reasons for the decision. Try not to panic, these skills will come with time. It's not expected that you will understand how to take effective notes from day one. 

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Like the others said, when you sit down to study for your finals you will learn exactly how bad your notes from September - November are.

This is basically a rite of passage for all 1Ls. You won't know what works for you until you've had a few months of practice.

By the 2nd semester of my 1L year, I more or less stopped taking notes. I found taking notes distracted me from actually listening and retaining the lecture. I kept a word document open just in case I felt like something was important enough that I needed to write it down.

I also would keep an upper year's CAN open, or the lecture slides if the prof provided them, and I would add comments on them whenever something came up that wasn't already in the document.

Edited by canuckfanatic
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I think it's a normal part of law school to feel like you have no idea what you are doing at the start.

When I first started I would brief each case and then as the prof went through the cases I would modify notes during the lecture as I was often wrong. This worked really well for my classes with more old school profs that had no PowerPoints and would just go over cases and cold call all day.

For classes with powerpoints I stopped doing in depth case briefs since the PowerPoint had that, and instead I would make notes on the PowerPoint in stuff the prof talked about that wasn't on the PowerPoint already.

In upper levels I essentially gave up on readings outside of briefly skimming to see what the lecture would be on, browsed Reddit and had a few cans from other students and made sure those cans were in line with what the prof said. 

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Just try to find good summaries from upper year students and edit it as you go through the class where need be. 

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1 hour ago, Zxcvbn said:

Just try to find good summaries from upper year students and edit it as you go through the class where need be. 

By the end of 1L my exam strategy was to create a new CAN by synthesizing an existing one from a previous student + the prof's slides + any notes I've taken + the syllabus.

I started by taking an old CAN that I liked and cross referencing it with the current syllabus and noting down what was missing. Then I removed anything from the old CAN that was irrelevant and added whatever was missing. Because the original CAN was not my intellectual property I usually put "Made by John Doe, Edited/Updated by Canuckfanatic" on the title page.

Sometimes you hit gold and there are no edits to be made to the original CAN except formatting.

I made original CANs for about 1/2 of my classes, and used old CANs for the other 1/2. I actually calculated my GPA for each half to see if there was a correlation and saw that my GPA was the same regardless of which method I chose.

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On 9/11/2020 at 3:22 PM, canuckfanatic said:

By the end of 1L my exam strategy was to create a new CAN by synthesizing an existing one from a previous student + the prof's slides + any notes I've taken + the syllabus.

I started by taking an old CAN that I liked and cross referencing it with the current syllabus and noting down what was missing. Then I removed anything from the old CAN that was irrelevant and added whatever was missing. Because the original CAN was not my intellectual property I usually put "Made by John Doe, Edited/Updated by Canuckfanatic" on the title page.

Sometimes you hit gold and there are no edits to be made to the original CAN except formatting.

I made original CANs for about 1/2 of my classes, and used old CANs for the other 1/2. I actually calculated my GPA for each half to see if there was a correlation and saw that my GPA was the same regardless of which method I chose.

This is also what worked for me. I found the idea of creating, from scratch, a full CAN to be not only a waste of time, but also a little overwhelming. Starting with a pre-formatted, hopefully already decent if not pretty good set of notes cut down my time organizing which gave me more time to internalize the information, write practice exams, and go through to see what I still didn't quite know.

To the bolded part, though, I would caution new 1Ls against relying too heavily on CANs during the semester. 1-2 of my 1L classes were an unnecessarily uphill battle during first semester because I had good hand-me-down notes that didn't need editing (to the point where during class, I could read along the CAN nearly verbatim to what the prof was saying), so I didn't take notes in class. This 1) allowed me to pay attention less than I should have and 2) was detrimental to my ability to actually LEARN (or even remember) what cases were about, how exactly to apply tests, etc. 

My recommendation would be to take notes as if you don't have a CAN, and then you can mesh your notes into it at the end of the semester. Even if you have nothing useful to add to your CAN, you'll almost certainly remember things better this way. This is what I did in second semester and a class that I had done less-than-well in first semester ended up being one of my best classes.

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I have read your comments, and thank you very much! Your comments gave me an idea of what I need to do to take my notes.

Thank you very much! ☺️

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On 9/11/2020 at 3:22 PM, canuckfanatic said:

By the end of 1L my exam strategy was to create a new CAN by synthesizing an existing one from a previous student + the prof's slides + any notes I've taken + the syllabus.

This is what I did basically through law school, and I did well.

I only ever made full cans in courses I really liked. And notably, while I did on average do a bit better in those classes than normal, it wasn't worth the extra effort for me to have done it in all my classes.

I decided to spend the time saved doing extra curriculars, which have served me very well in my career so far.

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On 9/11/2020 at 3:16 PM, Zxcvbn said:

Just try to find good summaries from upper year students and edit it as you go through the class where need be. 

Took me an entire year of law school to realize this was the better approach. Maybe it was good for my development that I took more traditional notes by hand in first year, but my grades went up considerably when I took the new approach. In any case, it doesn't matter much now anyways and maybe that is the moral of the story. 

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I am getting some really opposite pieces of advice. Some upper years and (this forum) are saying to use upper year summaries and adjust them to make them to their own, whereas I was talking to a lot of people literally at the top of the class who say making your own summaries is what you should do since that's how you learn the material. Obviously, everyone has different learning methods, but the people who seem to do really good at law school make their own summaries, however, I am not sure if the tradeoff is worth it. 

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3 minutes ago, JusticeLordDenning said:

I am getting some really opposite pieces of advice. Some upper years and (this forum) are saying to use upper year summaries and adjust them to make them to their own, whereas I was talking to a lot of people literally at the top of the class who say making your own summaries is what you should do since that's how you learn the material. Obviously, everyone has different learning methods, but the people who seem to do really good at law school make their own summaries, however, I am not sure if the tradeoff is worth it. 

Those aren't opposite pieces of advice. It all depends on your time management, how much you want to work, and how well you want to do.

Most people will amend existing summaries. If you want to win the gold medal you should probably go above and beyond what most people do!

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On 9/17/2020 at 1:37 PM, BringBackCrunchBerries said:

Those aren't opposite pieces of advice. It all depends on your time management, how much you want to work, and how well you want to do.

Most people will amend existing summaries. If you want to win the gold medal you should probably go above and beyond what most people do!

 

On 9/17/2020 at 1:31 PM, JusticeLordDenning said:

I am getting some really opposite pieces of advice. Some upper years and (this forum) are saying to use upper year summaries and adjust them to make them to their own, whereas I was talking to a lot of people literally at the top of the class who say making your own summaries is what you should do since that's how you learn the material. Obviously, everyone has different learning methods, but the people who seem to do really good at law school make their own summaries, however, I am not sure if the tradeoff is worth it. 

One of the best students at my law school relied pretty much exclusively on CANs since day one. I never saw this person take notes. Hell, I hardly ever saw them working at all until it came time to do some practice exams. 

One of the other best students didn't use CANs at all, as far I could tell - read the material, took their own notes, and didn't seem all that interested in practice exams, either. But worked super hard by all accounts.

Point being: find something that works for you and don't be upset if someone doing something different, potentially while working less, is getting better grades. 

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6 hours ago, conge said:

Point being: find something that works for you and don't be upset if someone doing something different, potentially while working less, is getting better grades. 

the problem is that how do you know what you're doing is right? won't it be too late by the time you figure out if you're doing things right since it'll be when midterm marks are returned. they're not that heavily weighted at my school (30%), but still, they count for something. I'm trying to find my stride but I feel so lost, especially since I have not read this much before. I am not used to reading 40-50 pages a day since my undergrad was in science. I find the cases interesting to read, but honestly don't know whether I should be writing notes as I go about the readings, or if I should wait until after class to see what the professor highlights and add that to existing CANs from upper years. 

Edited by JusticeLordDenning

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34 minutes ago, JusticeLordDenning said:

the problem is that how do you know what you're doing is right? won't it be too late by the time you figure out if you're doing things right since it'll be when midterm marks are returned. they're not that heavily weighted at my school (30%), but still, they count for something. I'm trying to find my stride but I feel so lost, especially since I have not read this much before. I am not used to reading 40-50 pages a day since my undergrad was in science. I find the cases interesting to read, but honestly don't know whether I should be writing notes as I go about the readings, or if I should wait until after class to see what the professor highlights and add that to existing CANs from upper years. 

The answer is that you can't know. It's tough, but the best you can do is make an informed decision based on what you know about yourself. 

FWIW, in my 1L experience midterms were essentially meaningless at informing how someone should or might best prepare for a final exam. 

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1 hour ago, JusticeLordDenning said:

the problem is that how do you know what you're doing is right? won't it be too late by the time you figure out if you're doing things right since it'll be when midterm marks are returned. they're not that heavily weighted at my school (30%), but still, they count for something. I'm trying to find my stride but I feel so lost, especially since I have not read this much before. I am not used to reading 40-50 pages a day since my undergrad was in science. I find the cases interesting to read, but honestly don't know whether I should be writing notes as I go about the readings, or if I should wait until after class to see what the professor highlights and add that to existing CANs from upper years. 

Honestly, I wouldn't worry about it too much. I had a lot of the same thoughts as you when I was in 1L. No one really knows what they are doing. Some will catch on faster than others, and some will come up with good study/exam writing strategies sooner than others. I think the key is to work hard, find ways to work smarter, and don't feel like you need to reinvent the wheel in doing so.

Edited by conge
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