Law Schools

Do Outline Banks Provide An Unfair Advantage?

Anytime an email ends with the lines: “Don’t submit this to ATL. It is boring and petty and nobody cares. Plus it’ll just make us sound like Columbia,” I’m intrigued. Boring, petty stories that make law students look like donkeys who take themselves too seriously (no offense, Columbia) is my specialty.

But here, we have a story that isn’t just about grade-obsessed law students taking it to a new level, we also have something that touches on issues of redistribution, unfair advantages, merit, and vigilantism. And we can talk about all of that without losing sight of the fundamental boring pettiness of the student involved.

A law student essentially stole the law review outline bank and posted it to everybody. Like Robin Hood wearing a Guy Fawkes, this kid thought “the people” should have access to the intellectual richness of notes taken by law review types over the years. Welcome to the law student version of Wikileaks…

If you don’t know what an outline bank is, well then I have no idea why you are reading this site. Some law students take detailed notes on their classes, then they upload these notes to an outline bank so that all the other law students can marvel at their fastidious skills. Later, other students download these notes, because reading through somebody else’s class notes obviates the need for you to pay attention in class.

Not all outlines and outline banks are created equally though. Some are both detailed and concise, others have completely missed the point, some are racist. At many schools, each journal keeps a “private” outline bank comprised of notes from former members who have the “best” outlines, and usually the law review outline bank is the gold standard of outline banks.

Enter a guy I’m going to call Douchebag Assange at NYU Law School. He felt that that the law review outline bank should be available to students who didn’t make law review because… fairness(!), or something. Here is part of his email to the NYU Law community:

Dear friends,

Below is a link to an open dropbox folder containing the NYU Law Review’s outline bank. I highly recommend you download the files immediately (to your computer, not to your dropbox folder), as the folder is unlikely to stay up for more than a few hours, if that.


The NYU Law Review, along with other student organizations/journals, collects and compiles outlines which are only made available to members and friends of members. Earlier this year, an anonymous source released the Law Review’s outline bank, but only a handful of people had the opportunity to download it before Law Review took “legal action” to have the files removed. This created what I believe to be an unfair advantage, and it seemed necessary to distribute the files more openly and broadly. Some will protest that the real world is so very often all about who you know, and that this is no different. Well, fortunately for all of you, you know me.

You can read the full email on the next page.

On the one hand, Douchebag Assange is taking other people’s intellectual property and distributing it because he doesn’t think he (or others) can compete just by taking their own notes. That’s all outlines are, notes. If you can’t take your own notes and need to use outlines as a crutch that holds your hand through the learning process, you’re kind of a pathetic student. I know law students are grade obsessed, but isn’t there something to be said, at a school like NYU at least, for learning as its own reward? Getting your own impressions from a class, as opposed to simply parroting what some law review type thought, has value too.

On the other hand, f*** it. Law school, especially the last year of law school, is a joke. If there’s useful class information available, everybody should have access to it. If you have professors who are lazy enough to teach the same class in the same way, year after year, then having notes about what’s coming and why is helpful. And if the law review people bitch about it, that just proves that they’re trying to protect an informational advantage over the rest of the students that they’re competing against.

I think this tipster frames the issue perfectly:

I can’t decide how I feel about this. On the one hand, the Law Review outline bank does have the potential to unfairly reinforce the advantages gained in 1L year. On the other hand, every journal has an outline bank, and every journal is filled with smart people who wrote (or more likely, obtained) good outlines. I still think it’s petty, but maybe it’s not obnoxious as I think. And in the meantime, I’ll be using the outlines.

That feels like the right answer. Class performance shouldn’t be based on an informational advantage owned by one group of students over another. And I don’t think it is: the best outline in the world shouldn’t help a poor student outshine a good one. But, to the extent that outlines are helpful, everybody should have the opportunity to start on a level playing field.

Getting on law review is supposed to be an indication that you process information better than your peers, not that you have access to different information than your peers. Douchebag Assange is just giving all the law review people an opportunity to prove it, again.

(hidden for your protection)

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