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How to make first class law notes at university

How to make first class law notes at university

Joe Defries


In this article I will discuss the most effective ways to study and take notes in your first year of university. For many students, law is a new subject which will entail different methods of revision compared to A-level and International Baccalaureate subjects. I will explain what you need to be focusing on and how to minimise reading time!

Common mistakes 

The most common mistake I have found so far in my first year is that myself and other students spend far too much time reading textbook material which is not directly relevant to problem questions and essays. The descriptive nature of textbooks means that there is a lot of excess information and background knowledge which can make studying inefficient and confusing. The ability to filter out material that is irrelevant is a skill which will allow you to focus solely on the important points of a legal topic. Another common mistake is giving every case equal weight for a topic. The reality is that the leading cases of an area of law are the ones you really need to know and be able to analyse. Therefore, ask tutors or research online which cases are most significant and do further reading around them. This will save time and also allow you to understand why the law has developed like it has. Working hard but not smart is the issue which most first-year law students face. Reading law can seem endless and aimless if you are not focusing on particular judgments and principles. It’s no secret that you don’t have to read every page of every textbook to do well in your summer exams. 

Now that you have an awareness of the common mistakes made by first-year law students, here are some ways in which you can really get to grips with the content of a topic. 


  • Treat them as an introduction to the topic. 
  • Avoid typing extensively; listen to the lecturer and try to understand the concept in person rather than waiting to review it later on in the library.


  • Where you expand your notes and implement the finer details of cases and commentary.
  • More important than lectures.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Further reading 

  • Not compulsory, but this is where you will find the information which will potentially push your essay up to a first-class. 
  • Academic journals and news articles are an excellent way to showcase a wider understanding of a legal concept. 

How to format law notes 

This is a personal preference but most commonly students tend to be consistent in highlighting cases, judges’ names, important figures and dates in certain colours. This allows your notes to be coherent and when it comes to revision it will be easy to navigate where the cases, for example, are on your documents. In terms of lecture notes, try to be minimal and keep them to skeletal form so that they can be expanded in the tutorial. Making a basic framework is a nice way to ease yourself into a topic as the key concepts will be clear from the start rather than being confused. I would also recommend printing your notes off onto paper so you can annotate them. Staring at a screen full of notes is not a productive way to learn. Producing flashcards is another great way to test yourself and diversify your note-taking. For example, you could write a case name and date on one side of a flashcard and then write the facts and judgment on the back as a revision method. Ultimately, it is up to you to figure out how best to approach note-taking. Whatever works for you is what you ought to be doing. I personally like to have all my contract or tort notes in one big word document so I can make links between topics and easily refer to cases I’ve used previously. However, I know other students who like to separate topics and treat them individually to avoid confusion between the legal principles.