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#DearFindLaw: What Is an Attack Outline? How Do You Make One?

#DearFindLaw - Advice for New Lawyers and Law Students from @FindLawLP

Welcome, folks, to another exciting edition of #DearFindLaw Fridays. Today's topic? Attack outlines.

We know. Contain yourself. We promise: This won't be too exciting.

And for those of you (lawyers, law students, pre-law folks) with questions about anything (law school, finances, student loans, tech choices for firms, Syria and ISIS), you can tweet us @FindLawLP and we'll try to give you a hand in our next weekly column.

Attack Outlines

My dear brother, a 1L at Louisiana State University, has a professor that keeps mentioning attack outlines. He wants to know: What are they and should he be making one?

For the next few months, you'll be working on your main outline -- the big, rambling review of everything you learned this semester. However, a 58-page list of notes isn't going to help you actually answer test questions (at least, not efficiently). An attack outline will.

An attack outline is a condensed version of your outline -- one or two pages -- that acts as a sort of checklist or decision tree on issues that you'll need to consider on an exam. For example, in a contracts hypo, you'll want to consider (amongst other things -- it's been awhile since I've taken a Contracts final):

  • Is there a contract?
  • Who breached the contract?
    • Is there a valid excuse (act of god, for instance) for the breach?
    • Any other defenses?

  • What is the measure of damages?
    • Expectation interest
    • Reliance Interest
    • Restitution Interest
    • Nominal damages
    • Lost volume seller (a dealer with unlimited goods)

You get the point. You can go bullet-style, checklist-style, or create a decision tree -- whatever works for you.

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When to Make Attack Outlines

Worrying about an attack outline now is like worrying about whom the Kansas City Royals will start in the playoffs: There are three weeks left and the Royals only have a half-game lead on the Tigers after blowing it against the moribund Red Sox last night -- it's far too soon to even be thinking about playoffs. And it's far too soon to be thinking about attack outlines.

However, you don't want to wait too long. Creating an attack outline early, perhaps with a month left before exams, will give you time to take practice exams with the attack outline, then wean yourself off of it (assuming your exam is closed book). By the time you take your exams, the "checklist" of issues will be second nature.

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