August 3, 2009
Findings from Law Firm Research Instruction Needs Survey Also Useful for Collection Development Decisions
In Law Firm Legal Research Requirements for New Attorneys, 101 Law Library Journal 297 (2009), Patrick Meyer, Associate Library Director and Adjunct Professor, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, reports on the findings of his 2007 survey of law firm librarians that was intended to identify the most important law firm research tasks and the proper format or formats in which those tasks should be performed so that advanced legal research courses could be designed to prepare new law firm attorneys. I subscribe to the notion that advanced legal research instruction should be format neutral. First you teach students the principles of legal research for specific research tasks by an analysis of access points and routes to legal resources based on a documentation analysis. Then you apply those principles in an integrated manner to print and online resources so students are equipped to perform research regardless of the setting they find themselves in after graduation from law school. However, it is also important to know which formats are preferred in law firms and Meyer provides some of this information in the form of opinion responses from law firm librarians.
Mayer's survey found the following about research tasks that should be performed by recommended format.
I believe most law librarians would agree with the responses as a set of best research practices by type of research task. The survey does not tell us what resources new attorneys are actually using for the above research tasks (or were trying to use before firm librarians pointed them in the right direction). That was beyond the survey's scope but the information might have been helpful for ALR instructors so they could address the set of bad research practices law firm librarians deal with when newly minted lawyers arrive on their doorsteps.
Oh well, since most new lawyers haven't taken an ALR course because most law schools deem the production of research-skilled students not sufficiently important to require ALR instruction, the legal academy leaves that job to law firm librarians anyway. Intuitively, most ALR instructors know what some of these bad practices are and they try to correct them in their courses but they probably don't know all of the bad practices because enrollment in ALR courses is limited to students who want to know how to perform research. Many who need to know how to perform research don't take a comprehensive ALR course. We'll have to wait 3 to 5 years to see if multiple-choice questions for testing research skills on the multi-state bar exam improves the situation by requiring a radical reform of the typical 1L legal writing and research program or, better, by requiring a comprehensive ALR course in order to prepare students to pass the bar exam's research component.
My one problem with the survey is that it was conducted in 2007, that is to say before law firm librarians faced budget cutbacks to their collections. This, of course, is not a criticism of Meyer's work. Some (many?) firm librarians are now facing decisions or have already had to make decisions that would lead them to qualify their best practice responses along this line: "new attorneys should use X in format Y to perform research task Z but our library had to cancel X because our firm could no longer afford it." In other words, some of the best research practices responses may now be wish lists that echo back to collection cuts as much as they reveal the poor research skills new attorneys have.
While the survey findings were intended to help ALR instructors design their courses, the data may also provide law librarians, and not just law firm librarians, with some authority to point to when attempting to justify the retention of print and online legal resources in the face of budget cuts to their collections. There is plenty more additional useful data than provided above, so I strongly recommend Meyer's LLJ article to both ALR instructors and collection development decision-makers. [JH]
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Findings from Law Firm Research Instruction Needs Survey Also Useful for Collection Development Decisions:
I'm surprised that there is a strong preference for conducting legislative history research in print. The online tools do such a good job of putting those resources together for you rather well.
Posted by: Vicki Szymczak | Aug 3, 2009 7:35:56 PM