In law school, your professors will expect you to understand and to retain the information conveyed in the lectures they have prepared complement your readings. Professors will explore the implications of each case and will highlight the areas they find significant, and you will be expected to understand and to retain these highlights to incorporate them into your examination responses. Thus, effective note-taking is an important skill to develop early in law school. Below are some reminders and tips on effective note-taking:
- Listen carefully. You must listen carefully. Few professors explicitly state what they want you to retain from each lecture. Instead, you must extract this from often complicated and rich discussions. Situate yourself in the classroom so you are free from distractions and can easily understand the professor. Listen to your classmates’ contributions to the class, but focus more on the professor’s responses to the students’ statements.
- Have a dictionary handy. Law school lectures should be treated like lectures in a foreign language. Often, professors will use terms that are not familiar, but are significant to the professor’s explanation of the case, legal concept, or court’s reasoning. If you are unfamiliar with a term, you should not hesitate to look up the word immediately so that you can continue to follow the lecture. Make a note of the term so you can increase your vocabulary of legal terms.
- Be selective. Law students often feel that professors speak too fast in lecture. Usually, this is because students feel pressure to take down every word the professor says. However, if you focus on listening to the lecture, engaging in the conversation, and taking selective notes, those notes will be a more helpful resource to you in preparing for exams. By transcribing every word the professor is saying, you will actually decrease your attention and understanding of the professor’s reasoning, and will be left with lecture scripts from each class that do not designate the significant key points from each lecture.
- Review your notes immediately after each class. Take ten to fifteen minutes immediately after each class, while the lecture is fresh in your mind, to skim your notes. Identify the two or three key points from the lecture and make your notes more legible and organized in a clear and consistent way, making it easier to later incorporate those notes into your course outline. If you come across an area that is not clear in your notes, make plans to clarify the point in a visit to your professor’s next office hours, when the lecture will be clear in the professor’s mind, and he or she can better assist you.
We encourage you to make an appointment with the Academic Support Program to gain additional guidance and support on note-taking.