Outlining for law school exams is the process of distilling complex ideas, learned during the semester, into an organized and reasonably lengthy study aid. When creating your outline, you are putting all of the bits and pieces of what you learned throughout the semester into an interconnected and coherent framework. It is through this process that you are teaching yourself how the separate legal concepts learned in class operate together with the larger body of laws. One of the key things to understand about outlining is that it's about the process as well as the final product.
The short is answer is that starting early is better.
Law school is time consuming. If you wait until a couple of weeks before finals to start outlining, you are not giving yourself adequate time. Generally, you should start outlining after the first few weeks of class; and at the latest, by October. If you are reading this guide during the last week of November and have not started outlining, don't panic! Though starting early is definitely better, you can still benefit from outlining. Remember, it is always better to outline, no matter the start date, then to not outline at all.
Commercial outlines, as well as other classmate's outlines, are not effective study tools. More importantly, they can hurt your exam score if you rely on them. Here are four reasons why you should avoid commercial and classmates' outlines.
It is helpful to think about an outline like a snowflake or fingerprint; it is one of kind and unique to you. It is written by you, for you, and will never help anyone else understand the class like it will help you. Your outline should reflect how you learn and process information. Remember, your outline's only function is to help you specifically!