« For Westlaw and Lexis, an AOL Moment: Fastcase's Ed Walters on LAW.GOV | Main | Fasting for Accurate Employment and Salary Data: Open Letter to Law School Deans and Directors on 20th Day of Hunger Strike »
August 25, 2010
Why Can't Johnny Research Practice Law? Academic law libraries are not wasting a perfectly good recession to develop collections that look more "real world."
Ah, no this isn't a reference to "Johnny Westlaw" though I would like to see him perform legal research in the real world and write a check for his credit card charges for the online search costs to do so because my hunch is he would have sticker shock.
In a very interesting recent LLJ article, Leslie A. Street, (Reference/Faculty Services Librarian, Katherine R. Everett Law Library, Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law) and Amanda M. Runyon (Reference Librarian and Adjunct Professor, Tarlton Law Library, Univ. of Texas School of Law, Austin) examine "how academic law libraries can respond to the call for more practice oriented legal education." They compare trends in collection development decisions at academic and law firm libraries by way of surveying the landscape of decisions made by both. Although the private sector has been cost-consciously making substantial shifts in its collections since the recession of the 1990s, the authors primarily focus on recent changes in this and the academic law library market sectors under the current budgetary realities.
What's most interesting in Street and Runyon's Finding the Middle Ground in Collection Development: How Academic Law Libraries Can Shape Their Collections in Response to the Call for More Practice-Oriented Legal Education, 102 Law Library Journal 399 (2010) is their focus on secondary source collection decisions with the objective of comparing the similarities and differences in collection development trends. The survey results do point the way to developing 21st century academic law libraries that provide legal resources available to help prepare law school students to research competently. Street and Runyon write:
What is clear from the law firm survey results is that law firm librarians prefer that new associates come to their firms already trained to use secondary sources and knowing when to use them in print versus electronically. It is also clear from both the law firm and academic library survey results that the differing needs and realities of both environments mean that academic libraries may be eliminating some of the print materials that law firms prefer their associates to use. This pattern has the potential to create a gap in the education of law school graduates and affect their preparedness for the practice of law.
It was somewhat surprising that academic law librarians routinely did not address a theme picked up on by some firm law librarians, namely the usability of materials in an online format. As one firm librarian pointed out, an online treatise that is only searchable, and not browsable by table of contents, page, or section, is not the same product as a print version of that treatise. Instead, more common among academic librarians was simply a determination that the same material was available in an online format.
This is not to imply that academic law librarians are neglecting instructional needs when making cancellation decisions. There is some evidence, as noted by Street and Runyon, that when academic law libraries offer certification programs and advanced legal research courses in special areas of law, they are retaining treatises and practitioner materials in print. It's a little concerning that some academic law libraries may be making wholesale print cutbacks in their secondary literature but no one should assume that academic law libraries must maintain practice materials across all areas of legal practice. Each must first be responsive to its own primary institutional requirements.
My hunch is that if legal skills are more fully integrated into the law school curriculum, academic law libraries will make the necessary correctives in their collections. Towards this end, the authors make the following thoughtful recommendations:
Just as legal education scholars have pointed out that critics should refine their views so that they no longer see the teaching of legal theory and practice as in conflict, collection development does not need to be seen as favoring either a scholarly or a practical collection. Academic law libraries can seek to find their own “middle ground” when it comes to collection development. Just as legal theory can be woven into more practical skill courses and vice versa, academic law library collections can find ways to weave in and preserve a print collection of heavily used practitioner and secondary sources.
In order to ensure that academic law library collections are poised to provide scholarly and curricular support as law schools pay more attention to what is occurring in legal practice, we must consider as part of collection development what kind of research is being done in practice. Thus, if law firm librarians are relying on print secondary sources as their primary means of accessing that information, then we should make certain that our collections provide the resources needed to transfer that skill, even while responding to budget realities.
In considering future cancellations of print secondary and practitioner resources, we believe academic law libraries should do the following, all of which are discussed in more detail below: align collections of secondary and practitioner content to clinical and experiential learning programs at the institution, retain a core collection of print practitioner materials for the jurisdiction in which the institution is located or in which a majority of students will likely practice, and discuss potential cancellations of specific titles and subject areas with practitioner librarians to determine the importance of the resource in question in the practice world.
On Not Wasting a Perfectly Good Recession.
Academic law libraries are not wasting a perfectly good recession to enhance the prospects that law school students will graduate without a reasonable expectation of what they will find in the real world with respect to legal information resources. They have no choice. With collection development budget cuts, academic law library collections are moving away from print to electronic resources because of costs while also trying to preserve a print and online collection for scholarly pursuits. In this Shed West Era. Harvard's law school library issued the largest print continuation cancellation in West's history. Yale came close. Stanford's 15% budget cut is another example.
Harvard LS's John Palfrey's LLJ article on collection development, while not groundbreaking, will be viewed years from now as a turning point in the institutionalization of his so-called "digital plus" academic law library collection development era which has been prevalent in the private sector for years. In other words, academic law libraries will be providing a mix of resources similar to those found in the real world, at least with the replacement of many print primary legal sources, research tools like digests and citation indexes, and legal periodicals with electronic access.
The day when academic law libraries' proportionate spending on e-legal resources will approach what law firms and corporate legal departments have been doing for over a decade is fast approaching (see images above right; source, LLB's Oct. 19, 2009 post here). Now, if only AALL's Executive Board would realize that academic law libraries are not WEXIS' core market and that some can be easily deluded by our very expensive legal vendors into thinking that they are really, really are important to them. Then maybe we will get somewhere in the vendor-institutional buyer relationship. Academic law libraries in terms of print revenue now and certainly in terms of online revenue since Day One are not major players. Academic law libraries simply are not important to WEXIS because their collective buying power isn't a major factor; the driving market force is firm and corporate legal department spending.
Why Should Academic Law Libraries Pay for WEXIS Online Services? Academic law libraries are important to WEXIS for one and only one reason, namely, they provide an audience for indoctrination -- law school students. While WEXIS offers academic law libraries substantial discounts to acquire access to them, perhaps academic law libraries should be insisting on even deeper discounts, particularly in this economy. Perhaps they should demand that TR Legal and Lexis provide their services free of charge. My back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate that WEXIS would be giving up about $15 million in revenue yearly if they simply gave away WEXIS online to the legal academy. Why is the legal academy paying that to provide students for indoctrination; why pay for advertising? It's peanuts considering the long-term revenue generation WEXIS receives.
The money saved could be spent maintaining print collections of secondary sources. In this Shed West Era, it might even dawn on WEXIS that exposing students to secondary print materials may shore up their print revenue losses in the private sector. Street and Runyon's findings in terms of law firm satisfaction with training in use of secondary literature ought to encourage WEXIS to turn its mind set upside down to pursue re-indoctrination to print in the legal academy. Perhaps WEXIS should also consider giving its entire catalog of state-specific print practice treatises and handbook series for the jurisdiction each law school is located free to provide the "stuff" needed to indoctrinate law school students to their titles to research competently in their state jurisdictions. Then WEXIS can sell them e-book editions after students graduate!
There are plenty of justifiable criticisms that can and should be leveled about the quality of legal skills instruction in the legal academy. They include
- the over-emphasis on federal law at the expense of state law;
- the way too narrow focus on WEXIS online at the expense of WK and BNA online services;
- the cursory nod to Fastcase, Casemaker, legal information institute resources, federal and state web resources; and
- the almost complete neglect of non-search document production and workflow applications available from WEXIS and others for a comprehensive legal skills perspective.
All this is beyond the control of academic law librarians because they don't define the legal skills curriculum's requirements. Hell, they are rarely asked for their opinions, let alone being listened to attentively.
Developing a Collection of Online and Print Research Options That Looks Almost "Real World." But the one thing academic law libraries can do is develop an integrated collection of legal resources, print and online, that is more like what practitioners see outside the legal academy. And that is something they have been doing in this Shed West Era, even if not intentionally.
Our traditional vendors have "banked" on a certain inertia in law library collection development. Once purchased, law libraries tends to continue the title(s) until disruptive and permanent changes call continuing to maintain the status quo into question by way of that pesky cost-benefit analysis. Those of us who have been in this business a while have seen this happen before -- and it is, no doubt about it, plain and simple a business, We all can readily see in Finding the Middle Ground in Collection Development that the academic law library community is not wasting a perfectly good recession. They are rebuilding academic law library collections for the 21st Century. They must address their institutional needs by reshaping their collections to respond to their faculties' interests while they are also providing a collection for their students which is more likely to be representative of what law grads will find in the real world. Recent academic law library collection development decisions are preparing the means for teaching legal research skills to prepare law school graduates to practice their chosen profession competently if only the law school curriculum would take advantage of this opportunity.
As a BigLaw librarian I was dismayed, disgusted actually, with how poorly skilled our summer associates and newbie attorneys were in terms of competently performing legal research (and we only hired the top 10% from the top 10 schools). As an academic law librarian I saw that the fault did not lie with our colleagues in academic law libraries. It's the damn curriculum. The situation has not improved one iota in 30-some years; the recently drafted revised ABA Accreditation Standards leave little hope that anything will change soon. As the first part in this LLB series on Why Can't Johnny Practice Law indicated, the status quo in legal education and its neglect of legal skills looks secure but, at least, academic law libraries, thanks in no small part to substantial budget cutbacks in collection development, are laying the foundations for change.
While the survey response for Finding the Middle Ground in Collection Development: How Academic Law Libraries Can Shape Their Collections in Response to the Call for More Practice-Oriented Legal Education is "statistically insignificant" to draw firm, reliable conclusions to the satisfaction of number-crunchers, I think most law librarians will intuitively find that the authors' analysis and recommendations are sound. This LLJ article is a valuable contribution to the literature, one I highly recommended to law librarians -- directors, collection development managers, legal research instructors, and reference staff -- as well as any law school dean interested in executing a reformation of legal education. [JH]