Mind Mapping Law School

The value of 1,008 hours of mind mapping the law

An Exeter University LLB graduate describes her mind mapping journey.

I burst into tears. Ridiculous, I know, but I couldn’t help it. My more-than-slightly-alarmed housemate rushed in to find out what was wrong. Hiccupping through the tears I tried to explain what had happened. Hours in the library, 2.1s in all my coursework, unthinkable amounts of money on textbooks and two weeks before finals I managed to mess the whole thing up spectacularly. I’d written a case name in red instead of the intended blue and my beautiful Negligence mind map was ruined.

Retrospectively I can see that my revision-induced stress had made me totally neurotic. It was an all-time low.

I’ve always been a dedicated mind mapper. From GCSEs through to my final uni exams I would transform my scribbled notes and handouts into one comprehensive, concise piece of work. Throughout my degree I spent, by pretty accurate calculation, 1,008 hours making mind maps. That’s 28 twelve hour working days per academic year – essentially one month out of nine. Add in the time it took to memorise the maps and that’s a scarily big chunk of my year. If I’d used that time to work in a part-time job I’d have earned more than £6000 over the three years at Uni. I wish there had been a quicker route, but it’s the method that works best for me. I had the luxury of a three year degree course, but I pity the mind mappers who are battling with the GDL, LPC or BPTC time constraints.

Mind maps were reassuring, because I knew all the information I needed for a topic was on one page. It avoids the nasty surprise of thinking a topic is finished, turning the page and realising there are ten more to go. It’s incredible how much information you can fit on an A3 sheet too- my best effort is over 100 pages of linear text. Putting notes and cases into a mind map format was my way of clarifying the law in question. Using shorter sentences and key points stripped away the less necessary information until I was left with the main issues at hand, then I could see how the concepts fit into the topic as a whole, and how different cases and ideas related to each other.

In addition to condensing the information into small and easily understandable parcels, the lines linking the text give connections and associations within a topic. They literally lead your eye and brain to relevant information. With huge topics like the free movement of goods in EU law, a mind map allowed me to mentally separate the freedoms by spreading them across the page, meanwhile enabling me to see how they interlinked. This really helped with visualisation in exams. Sitting with my eyes closed in an exam hall tracing a mind map route with my finger may have looked slightly odd, but I was able to chart how Van Gend en Loos led to the creation of the principle of direct effect quickly and accurately.

Mind mapping guru Tony Buzan believes the technique works so well because it mirrors how the brain is structured. I find work set out in a linear style very hard to digest, as do many others, because there is no separation of text, just word after word after word. However, because mind maps are literally mapped out - groups of ideas arranged using associations, triggers and connections in a web-like pattern - I find this brings the law into sharper focus and gives a clear visualisation of how the separate areas of a topic link together.

In fact, research conducted amongst medical students shows mind mapping increased the participants’ long term memory of factual information by 10 per cent – even more than the short term recall often required for exams: “Mind maps provide an effective study technique when applied to written material,” and are likely to “encourage a deeper level of processing”. People have been using mind maps for centuries - the concept is actually based on Leonardo da Vinci’s system of note taking. Who am I to argue with a genius?

This isn’t to say mind mapping doesn’t have its downsides, the major problem being how time consuming it is. Between lectures, essay writing, seminar prep and exam revision, it’s tricky to find the opportunity for some quality time with your coloured pens and a sheet of A3. Getting a mind map perfect first time is nearly impossible. It’s incredibly hard to tell how best to place the information to ensure you have enough room. I had some seriously confusing first attempts. Whilst I don’t regret the hours spent creating my maps – all 1,008 of them - I do wish there had been a less time consuming way of doing things, which is why I’m quite so devastated that was launched just three months after I finished my degree.

Created and edited by trained lawyers, LawMindMaps are available for topics covered in the LLB, GDL, LPC and BPTC. The maps are custom printed on an A1 sheet in colour, which stimulates various brain receptors, and posted to you with the option of next day delivery. Students based in London can even pick them up from the LawMindMaps office. LawMindMaps include the case names, ratio decidendi, statute, treaty articles, codes of practise, dissenting judgments and academic commentary. It is a comprehensive view of a topic, allowing time to focus on understanding the information, not just collating it. While LawMindMaps are great for exam revision, unlike Pimms and flip flops, they aren’t just for one season. They can be annotated in lectures, used as an aid to prepare for tutorials or as a skeleton to plan an essay. Even pinning mind maps up on my wall to glance at as I walked past helped me remember the ridiculous number of case names we needed to know.

If this post has made you gather up your textbooks to throw them out of the nearest window – stop right there. I should probably say this: The website itself says the mind maps shouldn’t be used as an alternative to lectures or textbooks and other authoritative legal resources. They’re a fantastic aid and can be amazingly helpful but they aren’t designed to replace Westlaw, Anson or any of the other delights law students have the joy of experiencing. Don’t think you can avoid work for the year and then cram from LawMindMaps alone in the two weeks before finals. As you’ve no doubt be told, there are few shortcuts to excelling in law school.

Whenever I told people I was studying law, it would generally be met with a grimace and a “Rather you than me!” There’s no denying that law is hard work and labour-intensive. As training contracts and pupillages becoming even more competitive, firms are looking for applicants with the top grades who also have lengthy CVs full of extracurricular projects. Whilst pro bono work is a way to stand out from the ever-growing crowd, achieving outstanding grades at every stage of training is more important than ever. The Bar Council states in its Barometer Report that nearly nine of ten pupils achieved a first or a 2.1 at undergraduate level. Only one pupil – 0.2 per cent of the cohort – graduated with a third. The report also showed a dramatic decline in BPTC pass rate over the last three years, from 94 per cent to 66 per cent. It’s clear that academic standards are rising at every level of legal training. It’s a tricky balancing act but mind maps are an aid key to smart revision, rather than long revision.

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