February 6, 2009
Legal Information in the Law Clinic
Dr. Yolanda P. Jones, Assistant Director of Electronic Information Services at Villanova University School of Law, has published her doctoral dissertation, "Just the Facts Ma'am?" A Contextual Approach to the Legal Information Use Environment (2008). Here's the abstract:
The purpose of this study was to develop a conceptual framework for legal information behavior in the law clinic setting. A strong conceptual framework for legal information behavior can be used to improve legal information systems, instruction, and services. This study examined academic law school researchers from a Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic. Student teams were observed in the law clinic as they constructed legal theories and located legal materials. The conceptual framework for this study is Solomon's Discovering Information in Context, which allows for multiple perspectives in gaining a rich, “round” view of information behavior, and puts forth Activity Theory as a possible tool for exploring how people discover information. Activity Theory was used to examine the systems, users, and the context of information use in the law clinic. Data collection involved naturalistic observations, “think-alouds,” post-observation interviews and examination of client file documents. Analyses involved situating the activities of the clinic historically, mapping the activities observed in the clinic within a “web of activities” using the Activity Theory matrix, looking for “breakdown situations,” and considering other information behavior theories and models which might “fit” the activities observed within the clinic. The findings showed the deeply collaborative nature of research in the law clinic, and how various sources of memory were used (individual, organizational, group, and artifacts such as books and databases). Information behavior models, if seen in terms of memory, each contribute useful perspectives on information behavior. While many information behavior models rely on an individual view of memory and knowledge, it is argued that models which take into account social and collaborative aspects of memory and behavior are more robust and were more useful in accounting for the behaviors observed in the clinic. In the law clinic, information behavior was embedded in a context of collaboration which had an impact, either directly or indirectly, on almost every aspect of information seeking and use. Thinking of information behavior and memory tools “in the round” allows you to consider the people, their work, the systems they use, and the environment in which they use them as they engage in information behavior.
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