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Academic Success

Welcome to the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law Office of Academic Success Programs. This office is designed to help students achieve academic success in law school.   The Office of Academic Success Programs provides services to students through an academic mentor program, study skills seminars, instructional materials, one-on-one meetings, and an informational website. 

Everyone needs support at some point in their law school career, which is why the Office of Academic Success is open to everyone.  If you need reassurance that you are on the right track or more intensive help, the Office of Academic Success is here to assist in whatever way possible. You are welcome to stop by the office to review study aides before buying them and you are encouraged to browse the Academic Success website to view content on studying techniques, time management, and academic planning and bar exam preparation.

For guidance regarding grades and studying in general, students are encouraged to contact Matt or Skylar (contact information below).


Matthew Carluzzo

Matthew Carluzzo
Assistant Dean of Students and
Academic Success

Matthew Carluzzo joined CWSL in 2014. As the Assistant Dean of Students and Academic Success, Matt designs and instructs programs and courses that teach students the skills necessary to succeed in law school, on the bar exam, and in their future legal practice.

From 2010 to 2014, Matt was the Director of Academic Success and Assistant Professor of Law at Vermont Law School.  Matt earned his AB in Religion from Dartmouth College in 1997 and a JD from the Georgetown University Law Center in 2003. Upon graduation from law school, he joined the litigation practice group at the Washington, DC law firm of Arnold & Porter, where his practice comprised of large-scale civil and appellate products liability litigation. He later joined Gilbert LLP, also in Washington, DC, where he specialized in corporate insurance law. In 2006, Matt joined the AmeriCorps VISTA program, where he worked with Middlebury College's Alliance for Civic Engagement to lessen the causes and effects of poverty in rural Vermont. From 2007 to 2008, Matt served as the Dean of Cook Commons at Middlebury, a role in which he served as a primary resource to help students achieve success in their academic and personal lives.



photo of woman Skyelar Cetel in a dark suit

Skylar Cetel

Associate Director of Academic Success

Skylar Cetel is the Associate Director of Academic Success.  Skylar develops skills-based programs and counsels students on all topics related to succeeding in law school and on the bar exam.  She also teaches the Strategic Legal Analysis course and guest lectures in the Professional Development courses.

Prior to joining Villanova, Skylar practiced in the Corporate and Securities group in the Philadelphia office of Dechert LLP.  She also served as an interim law clerk for the Honorable Paul Wallace of the Delaware Superior Court.  Skylar holds a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School (cum laude) and a B.A. in Sociology from Emory University (summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa).  While in law school, Skylar taught first-year law students legal writing and analysis as a Littleton Fellow for the Legal Practice Skills course.

Planning Your Academic Program

Three years sounds like a long time to be in law school, but it means that you have only six semesters to learn how to think like a lawyer, understand the substance of the law, and develop the skills you'll need in your future professional life.

This guide is designed to help you plan an academic program that will help make those six semesters interesting and meaningful and ensure that your academic program meets your professional needs. It gives you basic principles for selecting courses and advice on selecting your first-year elective.

For a list of courses organized by particular practice areas, please see Focus Areas of Study.

Principles of Course Selection

After the required courses in the first year, you'll have substantial freedom to custom-tailor an academic program to your particular interests and goals, and you'll have a wide array of courses from which to choose. This presents a wonderful opportunity for you, but it also means that there is no set curriculum; the responsibility for planning a coherent academic program is yours -- so you'll want to give it the time and attention it deserves.

As you choose your courses, we strongly encourage you to keep in mind the graduation requirements and the separate requirements for the diploma privilege and use the worksheet that’s attached as a PDF at the end of this page.   If you have questions about the worksheet or the requirements, be sure to consult with the Director of Academic Success Programs or the Law School Registrar.

Remember that you'll need to meet with the Registrar in your fourth semester or early in the fifth semester of law school to be sure that you are on track to meet your requirements.

You should also plan ahead. Some courses are prerequisites for specialized courses, clinics, or simulation courses and should be taken early. Many courses are offered just once each year, and some courses are offered only every other year. See Novasis for course descriptions and registration information.

Also, consider what else you will be doing in a given semester and adjust your schedule accordingly. For instance, if you are going to be participating in on-campus interviews (OCI) or traveling for interviews in the fall of your second year, you may want to take a somewhat lighter load that semester, since a job search can be time consuming. Or if you think you may want to study abroad for a semester, you may want to plan to take your required courses before your semester abroad. In order to graduate with your class, you must plan realistically and determine whether you can fit in a study abroad program, multiple clinical programs, or extensive extracurricular activities.


How to Select Courses

Your First Year

The first-year curriculum is designed to teach the fundamentals of legal analysis and reasoning, to introduce you to core substantive legal principles, and to give you a foundation for legal research and writing. All courses in the first year are required, except that in the spring semester of the first year, students are allowed to take one 3-credit elective from the following: Justice and Rights, Criminal Procedure, The Regulatory State, International Law and Legislation Practice and Policy.

Your Second & Third Years

In your second and third years at the Law School, you will have time to explore the curriculum both to determine your interests and to develop the necessary substantive knowledge and lawyering skills. Although the J.D. degree requirements and preparing for the bar exam will guide some of your choices, you will be free to choose from a wide range of courses, clinical programs, journals, moot court, and other credit-earning experiences

There are no precise rules for selecting second- and third-year courses. There are, however, various approaches to selecting courses, and alternative ways to think about these choices.


Five Approaches to Selecting Courses

Here are five approaches to selecting courses that, in combination, will help you choose a curriculum to meet your educational goals:

1. Choose Courses You Need For Graduation & Bar Privilege

In planning your course of study remember that after the first-year's 31(32 credits for Class of 2015 and beyond) credits of required courses, you still will need about 13 credits of additional required, specific coursework for graduation, leaving approximately 44 credits of electives. 

Although it should not be your first consideration when selecting courses, you should keep in mind that you also want to take courses that help you prepare for a bar exam. These courses include basic substantive law courses such as Business Organizations, Criminal Procedure, Conflict of Laws, Evidence. You may also want to work on your exam writing skills, since all bar exams include essay sections in which the examinee must identify a reasoned analysis in a clear, concise, and well organized essay. For more on bar exams, see the Other Considerations tab.

2. Choose Basic Courses That Provide a Broad Education

A broad understanding of the law is essential to practice, and it is important to obtain a legal education that introduces you to the concepts and analytic structure of many areas of law. Clients rarely have legal problems that fit neatly into curricular or career specialties, and lawyers are problem solvers who should be able to identify potential problems that fall outside their specialties. There are also a few subjects with which the public expects every lawyer to have some familiarity.

There are some courses beyond the first-year required courses that most law students take and that many lawyers believe form the core of a second- and third-year curriculum. In putting together your curriculum, you may want to consider including several of these courses. These include

  • Business Organizations
  • Tax
  • Decedents
  • Administrative Law
  • Family Law
  • Evidence

In addition, many lawyers and employers feel that an Advanced Legal Writing Course should be part of a basic legal education. 

3. Choose a Concentration of Courses in One or More Areas of Law

You may want to develop some specialized knowledge by taking a reasonable concentration of courses in an area (or areas) of particular interest. Advanced courses teach advanced skills and deal with complex problems that aren't taught in survey courses; this can make these classes particularly interesting and intellectually challenging. Advanced courses can also better approximate the types of problems that occur in practice. Pursuing a particular area of law in depth allows you to develop a level of competence and confidence that can make you a strong candidate in the job market.

But, beware of excessive specialization. Make sure that you have the courses and skills that employers expect as part of a basic education. It is impossible to foresee the changing patterns in the job market or future career opportunities and challenges. An overly specialized curricular focus may limit your career flexibility and your ability to find a job in a tight market. See the Focus Areas of Study pages for courses organized by practice area.

4. Identify Skills That You Want to Improve

Another way to choose courses is to identify the skills that you need and balance your course selection by including courses based on those needs. The substantive law changes constantly and much of the substance that you learn will change dramatically in your lifetime, but the skills that you learn will last your whole career.

The Law School offers a large variety of clinical courses, simulation courses, and skill courses in which students have the opportunity to learn lawyering skills in live-client or simulation contexts. These courses permit students to complement the theoretical study of law with experience writing in a variety of contexts, interviewing clients, investigating facts, dealing with adverse parties, contacting government agencies, negotiating on behalf of clients and participating in real or hypothetical court proceedings.

Include courses that will develop your intellectual & analytical skills and strengthen your oral & written communications skills. Recent gradutes and seasoned attorneys will attest that legal analysis & reasoning is the most important skill for law graduates to bring from law school, and it is critical to the success of a new lawyer. Employers consistently rank oral and written communication as among the most important skills for a lawyer to bring from law school. You should select courses that ensure that you graduate with strength in these areas.

5. Select Outstanding Instructors or Interesting Courses
    & Diversify Your Perspectives

An excellent approach to choosing courses is to select courses taught by professors you admire – professors whose classes will challenge you and whose approach to teaching excites you – or courses on interesting topics. Courses chosen either because of enthusiasm for the instructor or the subject matter are often the richest experiences one has in law school.

You should also consider diversifying the perspectives from which you see the law by taking at least one or two courses that encourage interdisciplinary thinking about law, including those that offer a global perspective. It is important that students understand the relationship between law and other disciplines and have a perspective on a legal system outside the Anglo-American system that may have solved familiar legal problems in unfamiliar ways.


Other Considerations

Here are some additional points to consider when choosing your courses:

Courses for students taking bar exams:

Students sometimes ask whether they should select courses to help them pass a bar exam. The answer varies by student and depends on a student's ability to learn large amounts of information easily in a very short amount of time.

Feedback from students who have taken a bar exam suggests that it is useful to take at least a few courses with a view towards the exam. Some students find that they have an easier time studying for the bar exam if they have had some exposure to the material during law school. And students who have performed poorly on law school exams may find it beneficial to take the basic courses on subjects that will be on the bar exam.

There are a number of different types of bar exams and each state has its own requirements and its own way of combining the different types of exams. The MPRE (see below) is a stand-alone exam. The others are combined into multi-day exams.

  • MPRE: Most jurisdictions (47 out of 50) mandate the taking of the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination [MPRE] as a prerequisite for admission to practice law. The MPRE is administered in March, August, and November, and many students take it at the Law School in November or March of their third-year. It is a two hour test with 60 multiple-choice questions. The passing score varies by state.
  • MBE: The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) is required by almost all states. It is designed to assess the extent to which an examinee can apply fundamental legal principles and legal reasoning to analyze a given fact pattern. The questions focus on the understanding of the legal principles, not on memorization. Each question presents a fact pattern in the form of a vignette and asks the examinee to select the best answer from among four listed responses. There are 200 questions covering the following subjects:
    • Constitutional Law
    • Contracts/Sales (UCC)
    • Criminal Law/Procedure
    • Evidence
    • Real Property
    • Torts
    • Civil Procedure (beginning in Feb. 2015)

  • Essays: All bar exams include an essay section in which the examinee must identify legal issues and present a reasoned analysis in a clear, concise, and well-organized composition. The subjects on the essay sections of bar exams vary by state.
    • For instance, the subjects for the Pennsylvania bar exam include: Agency, Conflict of Laws, Corporations, Equity, Family Law, Federal Jurisdiction & Procedure, Partnerships, Personal Property, Sales,   Decedents and esates,  and Pennsylvania Civll Procedure.
    • On the other hand, New York's essay section includes topics such as: Agency, Commercial Paper, Conflict of Laws, Corporations, Domestic Relations, Equity, Estate Taxation, Federal Jurisdiction, Future Interests, Insurance (no fault), Mortgages, Partnership, Personal Property, Secured Transactions, Trusts, Wills, and Workers' Compensation.
    • (Courses such as Business Organizationss, Corporations, Conflict of Laws, Federal Jurisdiction, Tax, Decedents, and Family Law cover many of the required topics.)

  • MPT: The Multistate Performance Test is the newest addition to the bar exam. It is a "closed universe" practical problem using instructions, factual data, cases, statutes, and other reference material supplied by the examiners. It is 90 minutes long. It is becoming increasingly popular and is administered in 33 jurisdictions the day before the MBE.

    (Clinical courses, internships, and work experience are helpful in preparing for the MPT.)

For up-to-date information on which subjects are tested on a particular state's bar exam, see the National Conference of Bar Examiners Bar Admission Offices Directory (NCBE).

Students should also be aware that certain courses may be prerequisites to taking some states' bar examinations. Finally, some jurisdictions may limit the number of clinical credits that can be applied toward a law degree. Information about these and other bar admission requirements is available from the NCBE.

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The sequence of courses:

Advanced courses build on prerequisites. For example, Trial Advocacy requires that you have taken Evidence. Also remember that many seminars and some clinicals have prerequisites. There are only four semesters in the second and third years, so you will not have much margin for error in planning sequences of three or four courses. The course descriptions identify recommended or required sequences where appropriate. When planning your second-year schedule, you should keep your options open by selecting courses that will serve as prerequisites for advanced work. In general, it is sound planning to take survey courses and courses that introduce sequences in the second year and to defer more specialized courses to the third year. 

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Your transcript as an employer might view it:

If you know (or think you know) the kind of work you'd like to do, be sure to select the courses that your employer will expect to see. For instance, if you are thinking about going to Washington, D.C. and working for a federal agency, a potential employer will look to see if you've taken administrative law and some regulatory courses. If you want to do litigation, employers will expect you to have evidence, trial advocacy, and other courses that show you are serious about doing trial work. As noted above, be careful not to pigeon-hole yourself with too many courses in any one area. Thus if you're not interested in criminal law, balance your coursework and clinicals to include civil law. And be careful about how seminars and study abroad programs look to employers -- not all employers look favorably on these experiences.

The pattern of grades you have already earned may be a factor when you select courses. You should imagine what your transcript will look like to a potential employer. A person with low grades at the beginning of law school who seems to be avoiding challenging courses might not get an interview with a firm or agency, whereas another student with the same pattern for the first year might get a clerkship if the course selection reflects a willingness to face challenges, and an acknowledgment that there are skills that need developing.

To be frank, the person with grades in the top 20% of the class may be able to get by with less strategically chosen courses. Many employers are quite aware that most students finish in the middle of the class. They may have gotten one or more low marks themselves. They are most interested in seeing evidence of improvement, diligence, and an ability to perform at a high level, even if that performance is not uniform.

Finally, if you're not at all clear about what you want to do, be sure to select courses that give you a well-rounded education. 

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The decision to study abroad:

Studying abroad is a valuable experience for many law students, but it is not a wise academic (or financial) choice for everyone.  As you plan your academic program, you will need to weigh the benefits and the costs of participating in a study abroad program. There are many benefits, including a remarkable educational experience, a broadening perspective of the world, insights into another legal system, and a chance to travel.  However, students must plan ahead to avoid unexpected problems. For example, the academic schedules of foreign law schools can interfere with summer employment opportunities, since the schedules can run into July or start in early August. Conflicts also arise with job fairs, on-campus interviews and other job-related programs, bar review courses, and bar exams. Carefully consider these scheduling issues as you make your decision and as you choose which semester or summer to study abroad.

You also will  need to ensure that you have taken, or will be able to take, your required courses and meet your credit requirements. Students who participate in study abroad programs do not always end up with the same amount of credits that they would receive if they stayed at Villanova.  The Director of International Programs, Professor Diane Edelman, can explain how credits earned abroad will transfer to Villanova.  If you decide on a semester abroad, it is a wise plan to take a few extra credits before your semester abroad or after you return.

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Developing a relationship with a faculty member through coursework:

Consider using your course work to help you develop relationships with one or more faculty members who will get to know you and your work, will be able to advise you, and give you meaningful recommendations. You can get to know faculty by:

  • being an active participant in and outside of class
  • enrolling in smaller more specialized courses and seminars
  • Visiting professors during office hours
  • doing an independent study for a professor
  • serving as a research or project assistant for a faculty member

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Why do law students outline?

Law students outline to organize their notes, cases and information from other sources into a document to use in studying for exams. The outline pulls together and organizes all the rules from the cases and materials that you have read for that course.

Why not just buy a commercial outline or use one that an upperclass student has prepared?

Outlining is more about the process than the finished product. Much like a traditional law school essay exam is not about "the answer," but more about how you derived your answer. You must construct your own outline to achieve maximum reward. If you struggle with putting an outline together throughout the semester, you will begin to see "the big picture". This doesn't mean you must avoid other outlines because often other outlines may fill in the gaps or spark further ideas when you are stuck. But you must not substitute someone else's work for your own. If you do, you will never learn what you need to know. The value of an outline comes from making it, not having it. As you prepare your own outlines, you develop the skills necessary to understand the law in a way that will help you apply it to resolve the issues in an exam question, under pressure, and with time constraints.


Beginning an Outline

What do I need to begin an outline?

Three things:

  1. Your Casebook
  2. Your Notes
  3. Your Syllabus

Like many students, you may also need an outside source, such as a hornbook, a commercial outline, or other student outline. These sources are used to supplement your reading from the casebook and class notes. A hornbook is best used as an authoritative source that ties together and explains legal concepts in a straightforward, informational format. A commercial outline generally is a clear, concise source of the black letter law.

Note: Some professors will tell you not to use commercial outlines, and some very successful students do not use them. You must grapple with the material to understand it, and this can be difficult and time-consuming--but when the light bulb goes off in your head, you will see that the time was very well-spent. However, if you cannot understand the material from reading the casebook, class notes, and from talking with the professor and other students, you need to seek help from other sources.


When do I outline?

Throughout the semester. After the first few weeks, try to outline each course, every week. Certainly, outline when you finish a section or chapter in your casebook. You might want to set aside Saturdays for outlining. Each week, add to the previous week's information. Some students outline a week or two before the exam. This is too late and results in extreme stress and "information overload."


How long should an outline be?

Long enough to be comprehensive, but not so long that the length is oppressive. Meaning--the length varies. You should have one comprehensive outline when you finish outlining at the end of the semester. You should condense that outline to several pages of black letter rules, principles and phrases that you can commit to memory during the study period and use as a checklist during an open-book exam. Other student outlines of the same professor's course might give you an idea on the length of your outline, but again: another student's work could be used as a guide; it should never become a substitute. An outline should not be a word-for-word regurgitation of your notes and case briefs. An outline is a summary of what you've learned. Think of an outline as a completed jigsaw puzzle; it should represent your attempt at putting all the pieces of what you've learned into one cohesive picture.


How do I put an outline together?

Step 1

Look at the table of contents of your casebook. What are the major categories listed (such as negligence, strict liability)? As an analogy, imagine you're putting together a puzzle; the first thing you need to do is look at the cover of the box to see what the completed picture should look like.

Step 2

Write down all of the categories listed in the table of contents. These should be the major sections of your outline.

Compare the order of the table of contents to the order that you covered the material in class. If your syllabus covers the material sequentially, from beginning to end, then your outline can follow the order of the table of contents. If your professor covered the material out of order or skipped certain sections of the book, use your syllabus as a guide in establishing the order of your outline. But still use the categories listed in the table of contents as the major sections of your outline.

Let's say you're outlining torts and the first section, according to the table of contents, is "negligence."


   Torts Outline

  1. Negligence


Step 3

Directly following the heading, write a general sentence/paragraph about the topic. While the information may come from a casebook, hornbook or class notes, use your own words to explain the subject to yourself.

Torts Outline

  1. Negligence
  • Unintentional conduct that falls below an acceptable standard of care...


Before continuing with the rest of the outline, ask yourself these questions about that section of the textbook:

  • What is this section about?
  • What set of problems are presented by the cases in this section?
  • How were the problems resolved in the cases? What do the case notes add to your understanding of this section?
  • What issues arise from these problems?
  • What rules (and principles) can be applied to solve the problems?
  • What policy purposes are served by the rules and/or principles?
  • What were the societal conditions which required the rules to be developed?

These questions set the stage. They help you put the topic in context and see the big picture.


Step 4

Now that you have the main category, look for some parts that you can use to further break down this large concept. Sometimes, the table of contents will give you these parts; sometimes you've talked about them in class. Look for the parts and further subdivide your outline, as below. (To go back to the puzzle analogy, imagine that you've decided to work on the sky, so you gather all the smaller pieces that are blue -- somehow, all these pieces need to be fitted together so that you can construct the sky.)


Torts Outline:

  1. Negligence
  • Unintentional conduct that falls below an accepted level of care.

           a. Duty

           b. Breach

           c. Causation

           d. Damages


Step 5

Flesh out each subpart with a definition, rule(s), explanation, or, in some cases, further subparts.

Using the puzzle analogy, sometimes the sky is a good starting point for putting together a puzzle because of the color used in each piece--blue. But even the sky may have further subparts, like clouds, sun, stars, etc. Similarly, you may think you've isolated a sub-issue in your outline, but you may need to make further divisions. For example, you may find in doing the torts outline that you can further define and divide duty, like below:


Torts Outline:

  1. Negligence
  • Unintentional conduct that falls below an accepted level of care.

            a. Duty

                i. Defined: ______________________________

                ii. To whom owed:

                     1. Traditionally, only those who were in privity of contract were   
                         owed a duty. (majority rule)

As you consider the rules that relate to each legal concept, ask yourself whether you know the different types of rules or other considerations that might apply. You need to know more than the majority rule. Generally and depending on the course, you should understand and add to your outline the following:

  1. Common Law, If different from the majority rule.
  2. Minority Rule
  3. Statutory Rule
  4. Modern Rule
  5. UCC
  6. Restatement
  7. Policy Considerations
  8. The particular view of your professor (very important).


Torts Outline:

  1. Negligence
  • Unintentional conduct that falls below an accepted level of care.

            a. Duty

                i. Defined: ______________________________

                ii. To whom owed:

                     1. Traditionally, only those who were in privity of contract were   
                         owed a duty. (majority rule)

                    2. Under the modern view, ...(minority rule)


Step 6

Find relationships among terms.

Make sure that when you are constructing an outline, you stop to think about the relationship between and among terms.

What is the relationship between duty and breach? Should duty come before causation? Why? Unless you know how each piece of your legal puzzle is connected, your outline will not bring you maximum results. Think about where each piece of the puzzle goes and how and why it belongs here and not there. Be flexible. Sometimes, you might have to move a piece from one place in the puzzle to another. However, as any good puzzler knows, you should never force a piece in where it does not belong. If you can't figure it out, ask another student, or better yet, a professor.


Step 7

Add cases and hypotheticals.

Notice that this is one of the final outlining steps. Cases and hypotheticals should be used to illustrate concepts or explain rules - they are only a piece of the puzzle, not the puzzle itself. Ask yourself what concept was this case meant to illustrate? You generally do not need to memorize the names and holdings of particular cases. You need to use what you have learned from the cases to analyze and resolve legal problems as they appear on exams.


Torts Outline:

  1. Negligence
  • Unintentional conduct that falls below an accepted level of care.

            a. Duty

                i. Defined: ______________________________

                ii. To whom owed:

                     1. Traditionally, only those who were in privity of contract were   
                         owed a duty. (majority rule)

                         - For example, in the case of the belladonna....

                    2. Under the modern view, ...(minority rule)


Step 8

Review and test. Having gone through your draft outline, make sure you aren't missing any pieces of the puzzle. Once you think your picture is complete, test it with a hypothetical. If the outline does not help you answer your hypothetical, you need to readjust. Your goal is to complete the outline with enough time to use it to answer practice exam questions.


The following are important summary points to remember when outlining:

  • An outline represents your understanding of how the various aspects of a course fit together, so you must create your own outline.
  • Outlining is a process that takes place throughout the semester. Cramming to create an outline at the end of the semester does not work.
  • Your outline should be built logically around legal concepts, not cases.
  • Use cases and hypotheticals to illustrate those concepts.


Adapted and revised  by Larasz Moody from  materials provided by Ruta Stropus and Charlotte Taylor, Office of Academic Support, DePaul University School of Law; and Linda Feldman, Director of Educational Services, Brooklyn Law School; Copyright 2000 Sheilah Vance. Information also provided by Herbert Ramy Director of Academic Support, Suffolk University Law school.


Reading the material, attending class and taking notes is critical to success in law school. The class lecture should further your understanding of the material, not leave you walking out of the class with no real idea as to its importance or how that class fits into the overall framework of the course. To get the most from each lecture, try a three-step approach to your activities; consider what you do

  1. before the lecture
  2. during the lecture, and
  3. after the lecture

 If you study the material with a different approach at each step, you increase your chances of seeing the "big picture" at the end of the course.


Step 1 - Before the Lecture

Before each class, read the assigned case briefs twice, in order to get a thorough understanding of them. During the first reading, resist the urge to highlight or takes notes; instead, read the case as if it were a short story. This will allow you to get a general sense of the case, and help to create a more focused second reading. During the second reading, feel free to highlight or take notes, as these will be much more focused now that you have a general sense of the case.

Following your readings of the case, actively review each case brief before class by asking:

  • Why is this case in this section of the casebook?
  • Why did the Court focus on the particular facts (persuasive and non-persuasive) that they did in reaching their decision?
  • Why did the Court ignore the other facts?
  • What if the facts were different, would the outcome be the same?

Compare the rule in each brief with the rule in the case appearing before it under the same section of the casebook by asking:

  • How is this case different from the previous case?
  • Does this case change the law as established from the previous case, or merely add to it?


Not only will reviewing each case brief before class help you to better understand the lecture, but it will allow you to feel more comfortable when called on and allow you to be prepared with any questions you may have for the professor.


Step 2 - During the Lecture

Actively work each brief along with the professor's lecture.

Read the professor. Notice:

  • What is the professor's lecture style?
  • Does the professor "brief" the cases during the lecture?
  • How does the professor utilize hypotheticals?
  • Does the professor provide you with the rule and the appropriate analytical, approach to applying the rule?
  • Do the professor's discussions include black letter law, public policy or both?


Step 3 - After the Lecture

Review and supplement your notes and case briefs while your recollection is fresh. Note the holes and try to fill them in.

If you were confused during the lecture, write out your questions and ask your professor during office hours.

If there is a conflict between what you thought was important/unimportant and what your professor thought was important/unimportant, figure out where your analysis is incorrect.


Lecture Notes - General Tips

Develop a consistent system of abbreviations, symbols, and other shorthand. This will allow you take notes much quicker during class, especially when discussions move rapidly and cover many interconnected topics.

Make sure your notes are complete. Students often leave out class hypotheticals, which are important for critical analysis and may show up on an exam.

Review and supplement lecture notes within 48 hours of the class, while the information is still fresh in memory. It may also be beneficial to type up class notes, as this aides the memorization process and will save you time when outlining.

Periodically evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of your lecture notes for each class. Good note-taking is a skill, and you may need to adjust your style in order to get the most out of your lecture notes. 


Lecture Notes - Examples

Your lecture notes should:

1. Show transition from one topic to another:

  • Identify transitions to different cases, cases that are mentioned as notes or footnotes, or articles contained in the casebook and to policies/history outside the casebook:

              case name: Garrett v Dailey

              note case: p.46, n. 1

              articles: Gilmore article, p. 44

              policy: 1964 case-notion of free enterprise. Crt did not want to imply a                             promise.

  • Signal when hypotheticals begin:  



            What if...


2. Show areas where you are missing notes ("note holes"):


  • Hypo: Uncle says - If you promise to refrain from drinking and smoking until 21,I'll give you ????  (No answer)
  •  Late 10 minutes to class.
  • Called on.
  • Q. What promise was enforced?
    A. ????
    Q. Was there any consideration for the promise?
    A. No.


3. Show how the professor went through the analysis:

        Example:  Ricketts v. Scothorn

        Q. What promise enforce?
        A. Promise to give $2,000.

        Q. Any consideration for promise?
        A. No.

        Q. Is an act alone enough for consideration? What was the act?
        A. Quit her job.

        Q. What was missing? Bargained for and given in exchange for the promise?
        A. Yes.

        Q. Why?
        A. Act not required by grandfather.

        Q. But the court enforced the promise. Why? What kind of estoppel?
        A. Equitable.


     Professor's analysis:

  1. Identify the promise.
  2. Ask if there is any consideration for the promise by looking if the action was "bargained for and given in exchange" for the promise.
  3. If no consideration, then look to the issue of estoppel.

4. Show the facts which are "key" to the professor:

Example:  As it appears in lecture notes:

Pitts, p. 175:

F: P = sales rep for D. Not on K w/def. period. Co b term at will. 67 yrs old. D term P but gave 1% commission of all sale in territory. After 5 yrs- stop pay.

Translation of lecture notes:

Pitts v. McGraw-Edison Co., p. 175:

Facts: Plaintiff was a sales representative for defendant. Plaintiff did not have a contract with defendant for a definite period. He could be terminated at will. He was 67 years old. Defendant terminated plaintiff but gave him a 1% commission of all soles made in his territory. After 5 years, defendant stopped paying plaintiff.

5. Show analytical "tips" given by the Professor:


            Key: Did the plaintiff rely and what acts were there?


6. Show where you did not understand the lecture:


        Difference between promissory and equitable estoppel?



Study Aids

Studying law is multifaceted. You:

  • read the casebook
  • brief the cases
  • attend class (listen, take notes, answer and ask questions),
  • and consult with your professors when you need further clarification. 

If you've done all that and still do not understand the material, you may decide to turn to a study aid. Study aids are materials other than your casebook that help explain the law. Study aids are not a substitute for doing the hard work yourself because working with the material, even when it is difficult, is essential to understanding. Often, reading a study aid may be all that's needed to pull together all of the work you've done. It can be like the proverbial light bulb going off in your head after you've read someone else's explanation of the material. Study aids can be especially useful to double-check your understanding of the material as you prepare your course outlines.

Study Aids, Strategies & Exam Prep Libguide


Study Groups

Study groups, when they are well structured, can be very valuable in the learning process. Working with other students can provide support, discipline, and feedback. Study groups are most effective for discussing material before class, discussing concepts after class, outlining, and reviewing practice exams. However, study groups can also be very destructive and counterproductive if they are not well organized, if members compete with one another, or if the members are not well matched. Some of the pros of study groups are:

  • Discussions with classmates can help you understand materials easier than you could have alone.
  • Talking about the material can help you understand it. Either you will know the material so well that you can explain it, or you will see where you need further study.
  • Interaction with other students in a supportive environment. 1

Some of the cons of a study group are:

  • Not everyone's motives are pure. Some students may react to law school competition by trying to sabotage you. Other students cannot or will not deliver what they promise. Other students will collapse under the pressure of law school or pretend that the pressure does not affect them.
  • Some students will do everything but focus on studies in study group.

Tips for creating a Study Group


Time Management

By now, you're probably asking yourself: how can I get it all done?

There's no doubt about it--you have to put in a lot of time to succeed in law school. You have to study hard, but you don't have to be consumed by your studies.

Studying longer does not mean studying smarter, and studying longer does not always result in better grades.

But students who had more accurate expectations than others about the time required for particular law-school related activities performed better than predicted. Research has shown that students who prepare written schedules and stick to them, study more efficiently and get better grades than students who don't.


Several researchers suggest that you:

  1. Prepare Weekly Schedules
  2. Semester-Long Schedules

The weekly schedule allows you to schedule small blocks of time for day-to-day activities, while the semester-long schedule allows you to set aside large blocks of time for such things as writing a paper, extensive review, or taking practice exams. 


Helpful Resources

For a list of books, software, flash cards and study aids along with academic planning resources, please see the Study Aids, Strategies & Exam Prep LibGuide.


Exam Strategies

You've heard the old sayings: Fail to plan and plan to fail. If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up anywhere. Those old sayings have a lot of relevance when it comes to law school exams. You need a plan to do well on law school exams. You just can't show up for the exam, read the questions, put pen to paper and expect to do well. Or at least, most students can't. You need a strategy.

You can develop your plan by focusing on three distinct areas--before the exam, during the exam and after the exam. The following are some strategies that you can apply to the process of taking a law school exam. Some of the strategies you applied in undergraduate school, some are common sense, but most concern the unique skills and approaches that you need to succeed in law school.


If your professor gives you any advice or instructions about how to prepare for or take her exam, follow those instructions over any strategies you might read here. This includes any suggestions on exam preparation, the questions you are directed to answer on the exam, and the way in which the professor wants those questions answered. See the Study Aids, Strategies & Exam Prep LibGuide for advice concerning the following:

  • Before theExam
  • During the Exam
  • Special Types of Questions
  • After the Exam


Reviewing Exams

Now that grades have been distributed, many of you are wondering what went wrong and some of you are wondering what went right.

The big question is what to do now. There really is no way around it: You need to look at your exams. That may mean coming into contact with a professor who you would prefer never to see again, but that is the way to learn the most from the experience.

You may have a whole host of reasons why you do not want to meet with your professors. So, here are some rebuttals in advance to the top five most common excuses.

1. You are embarrassed.

  • Keep in mind that most professors do not take your grade personally. You shouldn't either.

2. You do not want the professor to know who you are.

  • The professor probably already knows who you are, and she will be glad that you are motivated to do better.

3. You just want to move on.

  • Putting the past behind you is a good approach; however, you need to nail down what went right and what went wrong so that you can start this semester with a positive frame of reference.

4. You are sure you know which questions you did rotten on so "why beat a dead horse".

  • You would be surprised at the number of students who are mistaken about their exam performance. You will not know for sure which questions you did well on and which ones you did poorly on until you look at your exams. Imagine how horrible this semester will be if the things you thought you did right, you did wrong, and you unwittingly repeat those mistakes.

5. The exam won't have any comments that make sense to me.

  • Your exam may not have comments on it, but you can learn plenty on your own if you know what you are looking for.


What exams should you look at?

You should look at those you thought you would do well in but didn't, and, if you have time, look at those you did well in.


How do I go about it?

Check with the professor to find out his exam review policy. Some professors will let their secretaries give the exam to you; others will require that you come to their office to pick it up and return it to them when you are finished; others will require that you read the exam in their office with them present.

You also should see if your professor has a sample answer that you can review. Some professors will distribute the sample in class, and others might make it available in the Distribution and Copy Center. When viewing a sample answer, look at the exam in terms of content and style. Try to determine just what made the professor think that the sample was a good answer.


What to look for when reviewing your exam?

  1. Look at the point totals to see how you did overall. Did you have trouble with one particular question or did you perform fairly evenly on each question?
  2. Look for patterns. Did you do poorly on all first questions/last questions. Did you allocate time well, have initial jitters, or did fatigue set in?
  3. Are there certain types of questions you did better on? How did you do on the policy questions? The issue-spotting questions? Multiple choice? What skills should you concentrate on improving?
  4. Focus on content. Did you really know the law? Did you state it correctly and thoroughly? Did you apply the facts to the law? Did you come to a conclusion too quickly without first exploring all the possibilities raised by the facts?


Should you talk to your professor?

In most cases, the answer is yes. But, unless there's a mathematical error, don't think that doing that will change your grade. Your goal in talking to your professor should be to understand what you did right and what you did wrong--not to argue.

Before you set up an appointment to discuss substance, make sure you have read your exam and have formulated questions in advance. Check you answer against your outline to see if you can spot missed issues. Tell your professor which issues you found after the fact and see if your list is complete. Pick a question and describe the type of answer you gave. See what else the professor wanted in the answer.


What else should I consider?

In addition to reviewing your exams, you should also consider and critically evaluate your study habits from the previous semester.  Take note of those study strategies that were effective, but also be honest with yourself and admit what did not work so well. Did you procrastinate or not manage your time well?

By closely examining and identifying those study strategies that worked well and those that were ineffective, you will be in a good position to adjust your habits. This will allow you to plan and implement new strategies and techniques that will help you succeed in the upcoming semesters. Try incorporating new study strategies into your course preparation.

What else should I do if I think I really bombed?

Talk with your advisor, the Assistant Dean of Students and Academic Success, or the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.

Adapted by Larasz Moody from material provided courtesy of Tricia D. O'Neill, Director of Student Affairs, University of Maryland School of Law.