Many people request upperclassmen outlines. It is very helpful to see how others who have gone through the 1L process organized, formatted, and understood the information. While upperclassmen outlines are great reference point, they are not meant to be a shortcut to the process of outline. When law students talk about outlines and outlining, it isn’t the end product that is truly valuable. The process of reviewing your notes, organizing it into a comprehensive and understandable system, and editing as your knowledge builds upon itself are what make the final outline a valuable tool for your finals.
When you receive an upperclassmen’s outline, it is a pared down, systematic, and very, very personal system of how that person learned, reviewed, and pared down his/her notes. As a 1L receiving it during week four of the semester, you will feel overwhelmed or confused or just plain lost. This outline is the by product of 26 weeks of learning and studying the subject whereas, your four weeks barely encompasses a quarter of what the upperclassmen has done. Not to mention, everyone learns differently and has his/her own preferences in how to format. For instance, I prefer to organize my outline by major doctrinal topics and include under such topics tests, factors, or rulings with case names. Depending on the class or the professor’s focus, I may or may not include the case’s holdings. If I give a 1L my outline in the first few weeks of the class, it would probably seem like my outline were missing a few steps from A to B, so it will probably confuse more than it will help.
This is not to say seeking upperclassmen outlines will not be helpful. It can immensely help you find a starting point in your process for your own personal outline. It may even provide some insight into particular sections or cases with which you struggled. It should not be a shortcut or replacement for your own process to review your notes, check your understanding of key concepts, and find any areas you feel fuzzy about. Those fuzzy areas are opportunities for you to talk to classmates or go to office hours to ask the professor to clarify. The sooner you start reviewing and outlining, the sooner you can work through what you do and do not understand. Even if you use other outlines, the process is still the same; you need to review. In the end, your outline is personal to you and don’t take shortcuts.