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How to Take Note at law

Note taking at university can take many forms – you can use a pen
and paper, tablet or laptop. I recommend you try as many formats as
possible, but you must understand why you’re taking notes (and it’s
not to scribble down every work the lecturer says).

It can be pretty easy for new students to get hung up on what to do for
their first few lectures – this is a (relatively) quick post on the whys and
hows of note taking.

Contents [hide]
 1 Why take lecture notes?
 2 Effective note taking (plus an example)
 3 The Cornell Notes method
 4 So… pen, tablet or laptop?
 5 Note taking software
 6 One last thing…

Why take lecture notes?

The reason for taking notes will depend on how organised you are.

 Fill in the gaps in your knowledge – If you are completely on top of

your reading, then your lecture notes will be dot-point reminders
of what you need to go back and reread when the class is over
(that is, what you didn’t completely understand when reading it
the first time round). This will help you consolidate your
knowledge and clarify any issues you may have.
 To do the minimum required – Unfortunately, we all find ourselves
at this point somewhere along the way! If you’re behind in your
reading, then lecture notes are to record any case or cases that
the lecturer focused on so that you can add these to the top of
your reading list. You don’t want to be in this situation for very
long, but when you don’t have enough time to do everything, you
should at least read and understand the main cases and
It’s also very important to remember what lecture notes are not meant
for, which is writing down every last word the lecturer says! More on
this below.

Effective note taking (plus an

You will quickly notice that everyone has their own unique way of
taking lecture notes. However, some ways are far more effective and
useful than others.

It’s easy as a new student to make the mistake of writing frantically, to

the point that you have copied every last word the lecturer has
uttered. This is a big mistake, because you are focusing so hard on
writing that you don’t have any time to really think about what the
lecturer is saying (and in particular, what the lecturer is placing
emphasis on).

When you decide to take notes, you should only write down brief
notes to job your memory when you come back to them.

For example, you might have finished your readings for contract law,
but when you cover the Masters v Cameron case in class, you realise
you didn’t fully understand the three classes of contracts. It’s easy at
this point to step into auto-mode and start writing everything down, but
stop and think about it; you already know you missed a critical point,
so whatever you do, you will be reviewing the case after class. Give all
your attention to the lecturer and make sure you understand what he
or she is saying.
All you need to write down is:

 Masters v Cameron
 three classes
 1 – parties reach finality of terms, but will restate later
 2 – complete agreement, but conditional on execution
 3 – no bargain unless execution
 also fourth class – another case – Baulkham Hills
That’s it – this could take 10 or 15 minutes for the lecturer to explain,
but these are the key points. If you leave the lecture with a half page
or full page of notes then you have been inefficient (and probably have
a pretty sore hand). I know that it feels like a great safety net, but its
not necessary.
At this point I should say that in law (and I’m sure in many other
disciplines), your original lecture notes will never make it into any open
book exam. They will be messy, unorganised, and incomplete, and
you will have almost no time to navigate them in a time pressured
exam. And besides, the preparation of your exam notes will require
you to start from scratch anyway (I’ll be writing a post on this soon).

It’s all about learning, and as you get more experience in

lectures, your notes will shrink. Consider this a (very) good
thing because it means that you have learnt what the important parts
of a lecture are, and that you are filtering out all the fluff.

The Cornell Notes method

The Cornell Notes System will come up a lot if you search for note
taking tips in Google. Seriously, no law student I know would have
time to invest in this – there is simply too much reading to get through
to even consider following this method (just reading the Wikipedia
page makes my head hurt).
wouldn’t even know how law students have the time to use this
method when taking notes from textbooks, let alone lectures…
Hey, if you have time after the mountain of reading to do this, then all
power to you. Personally, I would focus on noting down enough
information so that you can simply remember what case is being
discussed, read it after class, and then using any extra time you have
during the semester to prepare your exam script.

So… pen, tablet or laptop?

I have read so much advice on this topic where people just go
completely overboard. You must do this, you can never do that! It’s
ridiculous. Just pick one and see how it goes. Don’t like it? Then swap
over and see what happens.

Use whatever option is easiest right now. Consider how fast you can
write or type, whether you want to carry a laptop around, whether
your tablet has a detachable keyboard (or whether you can actually
use the onscreen keyboard effectively). Cost is another factor.
My note taking technique changed a number of times throughout the
degree. I started with a pen and paper notebook. I can still recall how
sore my hand was after an hour of solid writing after those first few

I moved onto a laptop, and instead of actually listening to what

important cases and concepts the lecturers were focusing on, I sat
there and tried to transcribe the every word that was spoken.

When I figured out that I didn’t need to take so many notes I moved
back to a pen, and at times, a laptop when I could be bothered
carrying it.

Just pick one and see how you go!

Honestly, at the end of the semester you will be preparing for the
exams by using the notes you took when studying, not from your
lectures. You’re own lecture notes will only play a small part in your
exam preparation.
Note taking software
You will find reviews of different software and apps in a simple Google

I’m pretty boring, so I just used Microsoft Word for taking lecture notes
(or notepad if I couldn’t be bothered waiting for my ancient laptop to
load Word). It’s easy and almost any PC has it installed. Mac users
can just use the equivalent (which may very well be Word).

In my opinion, the type of software doesn’t particularly matter, so there

is no need to go out and pay money for any software package.

One last thing…

We all fall behind with weekly readings every now and again. Just
remember, don’t go back to writing everything down. It only feels like
you are being productive.
The best thing you can do is write down what the lecturer
was emphasising and then make sure those cases and concepts are
at the top of your reading list. When you find time to tackle them, at
that point, you will do all the learning.

And as always, if you try these tips and hate it, keep experimenting –
everyone is different, and you just need to figure out what works best
for you.

Good luck!