By Professor Herb Ramy
Director, Academic Support Program, Suffolk University Law School
At every step in the study process – reading cases, creating outlines, or reviewing notes and secondary sources – you will have questions. Some questions, like the correct definition of a legal term of art, can be resolved quite quickly, while others may require a great deal of thoughtful consideration and research. While it is only natural to have questions, it is your responsibility to find the answers and there is no better time to start this process than the present.
Too often, however, we never get around to finding the answers to our questions. When exactly can you aggregate damages in order to satisfy the amount in controversy requirement for diversity jurisdiction? I’ll get to that when I start my outline. Is there any upper end limit to the cooling off period for purposes of voluntary manslaughter? I’ll figure it out after I finish reading the cases for Constitutional Law.
Unfortunately, our questions often get lost in the haze of completing other tasks once we have moved on from the moment. Simply put, we forget that we ever had a question! As you can imagine, this can have serious consequences. In law school, most topics build on the ideas covered during previous classes. If you have unanswered questions about a topic covered on, for example, Monday, it will negatively impact your understanding of a related topic covered on Wednesday. Unfortunately, this negative snowball can quickly gain momentum to the point where you only have a superficial understanding of fairly complex topics.
One simple way to address this problem is to have a “Questions” notebook or file handy while you are studying. When you are studying and have a question, which should occur quite regularly if you are honest with yourself, write it out in your notebook or computer file. Writing out the question is a way of reminding yourself of a problem that needs resolution. Over the course of the day, the question will stay with you and you might find the answer in an unexpected location. At the very least, you will have a written reminder of your question, which makes it much more likely that you will find the answer.
At the end of each day, review your questions notebook and look for the answers. Finding the answers might take a few minutes or a few weeks, but do not begrudge the process whatever amount of time it takes. Answering these questions is not some small matter that wastes time – it is one way that a graduate student learns the law and studies for exams.