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What Are Law Students Really Doing When They Study All the Time?

Portrait of caucasian male student sitting at the desk behind stack of books looking exhausted and tired to study, teenager sitting at the table with a huge pile of study books in university library

If you love a law student, you know they spend a lot of time studying. When a law student studies, they are completing simultaneous tasks to gain an understanding of the material they will cover in class that week and ultimately, on their midterms and final exams.

The three main tasks your beloved law student is simultaneously completing when they study are: outlining the course, reading their textbooks, and briefing their cases.

Outlining is usually the first step in the study process. Given the sheer amount of information they must learn, law students must ground themselves by identifying the main topics in their classes and dissecting the sub-topics. Outlines typically mirror the table of contents for the assigned reading and most law students separate their courses into a set of mini outlines for each main topic they are assigned. Now it’s time to fill in the outline with the information they learned while reading.

Reading in law school is neither explanatory nor descriptive. Most reading comes from textbooks filled with cases demonstrating what happened to parties’ when a law was applied to the parties’ specific situation. Law students typically need to unlearn the practice of reading simply to gather information from the text. Instead, law students must apply critical thinking to their reading, which involves evaluating the narrow and broad topic they are learning, identifying strategies to overcome topics they do not understand, reacting to the text, questioning opinions, understanding why the court came to its outcome, articulating a rule and thinking about facts that may have changed the court’s outcome.

Briefing cases helps the law student distil the most important information about a case. Briefing is a study technique that, when done correctly, allows the law student to analyze the mountainous mass of information in a single case and represents a final product after reading a supplement explaining the case in laypersons terms, reading the case, re-reading the case, dissecting the case, and putting it back together again. Student’s either include the brief in their outline or create a separate document with all the case briefs for their assigned reading.

So, there you have it — outlining, reading, and briefing constitute the bulk of a law student’s hours of studying. As the semester progresses however, the study process gains intensity as students start to transform their outlines into documents that mirror how the student will write each main topic on the exam, writing and assessing practice exams, taking multiple choice exams and meeting with their professors to confirm their understanding before the exams.

That’s what your law student is doing when they study!

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