The Cornell Method for taking notes in law school

The Cornell Method specifically aids for condensing / shrinking notes without going through the procedure of laboriously recopying.


The method is rather simple and pretty effective:

  • Begin by writing all your notes in the main area of your note book (preferably the right).
  • Once done, use the area on the left of the page for labeling each set of thoughts with a specific key word or even a sign.

Example: Let us assume your professor was talking about contract law, and about offers at the top of the page you write “offers – contract law”, then write your notes to the right side, later on analyze each section of thoughts (back to our example, how are offers terminated or even better, offer termination)

  • Prior to attending your lecture, it would be beneficial to vertically rule out a 1.5-2.0 inch margin to the left of your page leaving approximately 6 inches of area empty to the right used primarily for making notes (if you happen to be using Microsoft word, you can always use the indents – read more about indents).
  • Once in class, use the “6 inch area” (identified above) for writing down all your notes and information.
  • Try to organize the thoughts in a specific manner, for example, once the lecturer moves on to another point or top, skip a few lines and leave them empty and begin writing in the same area again.
  • The empty space will allow you to finish off the phrases you started after class and hence complete any points missed by mistake or due to non-comprehension
  • Once you complete your phrases, begin labeling and giving titles for each section in the left margin, place subsection and main headings etc (you will find this abundantly useful once your revision starts).
  • Here is where the fun part begins, when reviewing simply cover your note with a card (or even a text book, anything not see through would work effectively), when you block your notes, leave the left margin showing with all your titles, read the titles one by one and then say all you can from information hidden underneath the card.
  • Once you have said all you can remember, simply remove the card and check whether what you remember matches the written. If you said it correctly, then you have learned it.


The Cornell Method has been described as “do it correctly in the first place” as much less laborious work is required in rewriting and maintaining the notes.


Disadvantages of applying the Cornell method for taking legal notes:

  • Can be disturbing to prepare the margins prior to heading to class.
  • Can look very messy if performed incorrectly.
  • You have to fully comprehend the lecture to set the notes in the right manner.


Advantages of applying the Cornell method for taking legal notes:

  • Provides an organized, structured and systematic method for both reviewing and recording your notes.
  • The format is easy to produce and effect for finding specific areas of your study, being both efficient as well as simply whilst saves a lot of time.
  • Perfect for using for lecture notes.

Continue to:

  1. The Outline Method

  2. The Mapping Method

  3. The Charting Method

Read the recap on effectively taking notes in Law School.

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