How I learned to stop worrying and love CANs

Give yourself two brownie points if you got that reference. I apologize if it reminded you of your age. One brownie point if you googled it before reading the rest. As the title of this blog suggests, I have just passed a very important milestone in any law student’s life: I have made my first, official CAN joke. Yes, we’ve all made many by now, but this one’s on the record. I must admit; it feels good.

Less importantly, I have officially been CANing for some time now. Some of you are thinking the following: someone must have caught the last wagon on the train ‘cause I’ve been CANing since September! Some of you are nervously smiling as you have yet to look at a single handout on CANing. Some of you are deliberately waiting to get through all the term’s material before going through CANing bootcamp right before exams, because that’s your thing. Well, you’re all wrong. Because there is no right answer! If there is one take-home point from any piece of CANing advice, it’s the fact that there is no magic way to do it. When it comes to CANing, you’ll hear the phrase, “Do what works for you” almost as much as you hear about the living tree doctrine (one brownie point!).

What I am continuing to learn is to strike a balance between adopting new study skills essential in studying law and keeping old study skills that have always worked for me. So, I’ve learned to actually brief a case, as opposed to take pages and pages of notes on it. Yet, I’ve kept my style of note-taking in class, which is taking down a running commentary of the lecture, usually in complete sentences, as opposed to strictly bullet points. I’m good at remembering conversations, so this style works for me by turning lectures into conversation-y type things. Later, taking out the main points from the conversation becomes my process of review.

I’ve been aiming for the same balancing act in CANing. I’m keeping what works in note-taking, but I’m also constantly experimenting, changing styles, and yelling at Microsoft Word to bring back Clippy the Office Assistant to format my headings for me (three brownie points for that reference because I know it made you count the years). I think the biggest hang-up I have about CANs is thinking of them as something completely alien, but they really aren’t. If they had been called Final Exam Notes, I bet we’d all stress less about them. But they’re supposed to be condensed. And annotated. So, naturally we balk at the unfamiliar. Reminding myself that at the end of the day CANs are essentially really good course/study notes definitely helps make them more manageable.

Yes, it’s frustrating as I’m getting the hang of it, and I imagine I’ll only know what the right balance is once I get my exam marks back. I have, however, discovered a rather bright silver lining to CANing and note-taking in law school generally: the satisfaction of getting to add all those new words to your software’s dictionary. Interjurisdictional. Pogg powers. Actus Reus. Promisee. None of these used to be recognizable words before you made them so. Nothing beats feeling smarter than a computer. Take that Deep Blue. (final brownie point! Now, add up your total and buy the equivalent number of real brownies to snack on while you CAN.)

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