Taking Notes in Law School: The Process


Welcome to LearnLawBetter. In this episode,
I will provide you with a proven note taking technique. This approach to note taking was
created over 50 years ago at Cornell University and is used by millions around the world. Hi, this is Beau Baez, and today I want to
talk to you about how to take class notes using the Cornell Method. While it is possible
to use this method on a computer, the preferred method for taking class notes is by hand.
Make sure to listen to my previous episode called “Handwrite or Type Notes” as to
why handwriting will result in better results. The first step is to have the right paper.
While you can search for Cornell paper and purchase it online already pre-formatted, you can
easily format any paper, whether its lined or blank, with a ruler and pen. Assuming you are formatting
it yourself, go two inches from the left side and draw a line from the top to bottom, dividing
the paper into two columns. You will take your notes in the much larger right column,
and leave the left column alone during class. At the bottom, draw a horizontal line two
inches from the bottom, which you will also leave blank during class.
During class you will place all of your notes in the right column. Do not try to outline
your notes during class. Instead, focus on the content of the discussion. Now, if there
is material that is sequential in nature, then, yes, number it. But don’t
try to place the material into a larger organizational system during class. For example,
suppose that you are creating an outline for your Torts class, and you have Negligence
under Roman numeral II. That’s fine, but don’t worry about that during class time.
So if your professor says there are 5 elements to Negligence, then by all means write down
1 through 5, along with the elements. Next, don’t take verbatim notes. Instead,
capture the most important ideas. Since these are your notes, write telegraphically. You have likely seen movies where somebody in the movie received a telegram. Because people paid by the individual letter in those days, telegrams sounded choppy, yet they are completely understandable. You
can employ the same technique and avoid words like a, an, the, for. Also, use abbreviations.
In law school, many students use a capital K for contract, a capital P for plaintiff, a Greek Δ , or Delta, for defendant. They’re your notes, so create abbreviations that work for you.
Now shortly after class, you will use the left side column, which is called the cue column. C-U-E, because those are your cues for helping you understand what is in your notes. You
should write down key words in the cue column that correlate to your notes in the right
column. For example, suppose your class discussion was about mutual assent for a contract. In
the cue column you might write down “offer” in one spot and then further down the page
you might write down “acceptance.” One advantage of using key words is that you can
then find those key words on any of the pages where they appear in your notes, allowing you to tie concepts
together, even though they might have been discussed at different points during the class discussion, or even over several classes. Finally, the blank section at the bottom of
the page is a summary section. After you complete the cue section, summarize your notes in the summary section. That is critically important, because each time you engage with the material you
learn it at a deeper level. Much more so than will occur if you only reread your notes.
Make sure to come back for my next episode, where I cover the content you should be capturing
in your notes. Please leave a comment below on your thoughts on this episode, and don’t
forget to hit the share button to help me create the premier law school success channel
on YouTube. We have many other episodes, so feel free
to explore. Also, at LearnLawBetter.com you will find more free resources to help you
succeed, including our newsletter, blog posts, and exam bank. Thank you for watching.

6 comments

  1. These are some really fantastic note taking methods. It helps me whether it be for a seminar or even a refresher course. I have to agree that taking notes by hand is better as it commits it to memory better.

  2. Wow great technique and approach of taking notes learnt here. This method which is pioneered in cornell university that i just learnt to day is quite inspiring. I must say great video and am sure i will do better in taking my notes in class with this.

  3. I visited a trial for several days. The judge directed the jury not to take notes. He said too much time is used writing thoughts down, which causes inattention and distraction. The judge said listen to the entirety and read backs can be done during deliberations.

  4. When is it ideal to fill in the cue and summary column? I ask because one might have other lectures to get to right after the lecture. Can you fill it when you go home, or will it be too late and the notes dont make sense anymore?

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