An App for Those Obsessed with Charting & Diagramming in Law School
Although there is a valid debate regarding whether or not “learning styles” are scientifically valid, in my personal experience, based on my personal knowledge, I am able to spend less energy processing new information when presented in an auditory or visual format, rather than a text-based format. (At this point, the educator in me would love to go off on a tangent regarding the strengths and limitations of “learning style research,” but I will spare you the pleasure.)
During the first week of law school, I observed that I process information differently when compared to many of my peers. And then I came across this research study that confirmed what I was personally observing to be true—law school students, generally, tend to be strong “verbal learners,” followed by visual, kinesthetic and then auditory, whereas “verbal learning,” for me, falls secondary to visual and kinesthetic modalities. In other words, it takes relatively more energy for me to learn something out of a textbook than it does for me to learn something either by visually processing a diagram or by actually digging into a real-life problem and doing the work.
This way of processing material lends itself very well to diagramming and visual aids. By creating flowcharts and graphic organizers, I spatially remember where I “placed” everything, along with its colors, which gives me the equivalent of a 25-40 page outline in 1-3 diagrams. It may seem that there is information “missing” from the diagram—however in the process of creating and organizing the diagram, I internalize all of the material that would have been written down in a 40-page outline somewhere. By the day of final exams, I literally had a two or three-page flowchart per class for each area of substantive law. (For example in torts—one chart for the intentional torts, one chart for negligence. Civil procedure - one chart for joinder & jurisdiction, another chart for Rule 11, 12, 56. Criminal law - one chart for elements of crimes, one chart for defenses, one chart for inchoate offenses. Contract law—one chart for theories of contract formation (consensual offer-acceptance-consideration; unjust enrichment, promissory estoppel), one chart for defenses.
I knew pretty early on in the semester that I was a web “diagrammer” and not a hierarchical “outliner.” So when final exams came around, I started creating flowcharts by hand. However, I quickly realized diagramming by hand was wildly inefficient because I would get so involved in the artistry of the chart as a matter of procrastination, instead of engaging with the actual content.
Learning how to use the program while studying for final exams was less than ideal. However, the functions needed for the diagrams created below were pretty intuitive and therefore quick to pick up. Below, you will find an explanation of my general “charting strategy” followed by examples of flow charts I created for my 1L courses. Because I was flow-charting in a relative hurry, I focused on content rather than grammar. Therefore, please pardon any typos.
GENERAL 1L FALL CHARTING STRATEGY
TORTS (2 charts)
Torts was my first exam and my first time using LucidChart to diagram. I had much of torts already internalized and for the sake of time, I didn’t prioritize making a chart for the intentional torts & defenses, the full prima facie case for negligence and/or negligence defenses. Therefore, I only made two charts for the elements of negligence that I needed my study and attention (one chart for duty/breach, one chart for proximate causation). However, if I were to be “comprehensive” and create charts that represented the totality of the Torts I coursework, I would create three charts—(1) intentional torts & defenses; (2) prima facie case for negligence (duty, breach, actual cause, legal cause, damages); and (3) negligence defenses.
CONTRACTS (3 charts)
Mutual Assent - Offer, Acceptance
CIVIL PROCEDURE (2 charts)
Rule 11, 12, 56
CRIMINAL LAW (3 charts)
Elements of Crimes
LAW SCHOOL 1L DIAGRAM EXAMPLES
Here are some examples of the actual diagrams and charts I made for each class during my 1L Fall semester final exams. Again, please pardon any typos as I created these for myself as a matter of internalizing content objectives and not to share with others. I share them below just to provide an example of how LucidChart could support studying in law school. There are also some things I switched around after I printed each chart and started using it to write practice essays. For example, when analyzing personal jurisdiction, “waiver/consent/Burnham transient/12(b)(2)/forum-selection clause/forum citizenship” should be considered in step one instead of step three followed by LAS/4(k)(1)(A) and then the Constitutional 5th/14th due-process analysis.
Example: Civil Procedure Joinder-Jurisdiction
Here, I laid out the two major topics of civil procedure—joinder and jurisdiction—with their relevant parts. When writing an essay, joinder was analyzed first, then jurisdiction—subject matter, personal jurisdiction, then venue. My color coding is somewhat personal and arbitrary. Looking at the chart, it seems as if I (1) highlighted in yellow things my professor emphasized on with respect to analysis (examples she went over in class); (2) highlighted in red key phrases I wanted to use in my essay; and (3) highlighted in blue the three main components of a jurisdiction analysis. Something I’m working on for the Spring semester is to be more “controlled” in my thinking processes. It will be interesting to see if my Spring 1L charts reflect progress towards this outcome.
Example: Torts I Proximate Cause Analysis
A torts proximate cause analysis was pretty straightforward, however, I made this chart to get the structure and verbiage down for what I wanted to write in my essay. So, by creating and internalizing this chart, I was able to write something like this in my essay:
“Proximate cause examines whether the relationship between the defendant’s breach of duty and the plaintiff’s damages was natural, probable and not too remote in time and space. Where resulting damages to the plaintiff is an anticipated outcome (“foreseeable”), liability generally attaches. As a matter of judicial efficiency and fairness, courts generally limit the scope of an actor’s liability to (1) foreseeable harms resulting from the risks that make the actor’s conduct tortious to (2) the class of foreseeable persons the actor put at risk by his alleged negligent conduct.”
“Here, <FACT> was a force at play in between <FACT DESCRIBE CONDUCT & HARM>. Therefore, <DIRECT/INDIRECT>. Etc. Continue for the rest of the flow chart applying facts to law/law to facts. Fork-argue both sides-pivot-conclude-move on.”
Example: Criminal Law Defenses
My Criminal Law exam was exclusively multiple choice. Accordingly, my criminal law charts focused on straight-up memorization of crimes, their elements, and defenses. To facilitate efficient memorization and retention of information, I consolidated and spatially organized the material in three main categories: (1) justifications (negation of actus reus); (2) excuses (negation of mens rea), and (3) mental incapacity. I included “infancy” in mental incapacity because to me, children are generally not held to the adult standard because of their perceived inability (or “mental incapacity”) to make appropriate choices between alternatives and appreciate the consequences of their actions. I understand this is probably not “proper” to categorize in this fashion for a law exam. A philosophy exam—yes. A law exam—no.
Example: Contracts Mutual Assent
I created diagrams for contracts, but also memorized the facts, holdings, and names of all the cases in our casebook, since my professor wrote his own textbook and heavily tested on facts similar to the facts found in the cases we covered. We had an entire “short answer” section that could be answered by either explaining a legal principle or by citing the case that covered the legal principle in 10 or fewer words. It was more efficient to cite the case, and so I did. Concerning the chart below on mutual assent, I used the casebook and the Restatement (Second) of Contracts to create a “four-step analysis” of whether or not an agreement was present.
LEARN MORE ABOUT LUCID CHART
I hope sharing this information can be helpful to a fellow 1L—especially those with the dreaded closed book exam.
Thanks for stopping by.