June 29, 2011
Brief and Directly to the Point: Advice to Law Students and New Grads on Achieving a Successful Transition to "Real World" Legal Research
While less than two pages long (single-spaced), BYU law librarian Shawn G. Nevers' Observations for Summer Research Success [SSRN] should be handed out to every summer clerk and new first year associate by law librarians who is now working with them. Nevers' Legal Research column for Student Lawyers (Vol. 39, No. 8, pp. 22-23, April 2011) hits the proverbial nail on its head, starting with the following two tips:
Tools. An important part of preparing yourself for research on the job is to understand the research tools available to you. Your employer simply can’t provide you with the wealth of legal resources offered by your law school library. Because of that, your research tools this summer will be limited in some way. Many law students get a bit squeamish when that becomes a reality.
Asking the right questions before you start your job can help you avoid some of that research-related indigestion. Does your employer use LexisNexis? Westlaw? WestlawNext? Something else? What content is covered in their Westlaw/Lexis subscription? Does your employer pay a flat fee for Westlaw/Lexis or will your research be charged by the search or by the minute? How are clients billed for research? What print sources are available? Knowing the answers to these and similar questions can help you prepare for the research tools you’ll be using this summer.
Research interview. Although you’re not really researching yet, a critical part of the research process occurs when you meet with a lawyer to receive a research project. I like to think of these meetings as a research interview of sorts. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and clarify the research task. There’s nothing worse than spending a lot of time researching the wrong issue. Getting things ironed out initially can spare you an additional trip to the lawyer’s office just for clarification.
Depending on the situation, you may also want to ask the lawyer to recommend a good place to start your research. She may be able to refer you right away to a treatise or another lawyer in the office that could save you valuable time.
Hat tip to Deborah Hackerson's Legal Skills Prof Blog post. Her post also offers sound advice for law students heading out to perform legal research in the "real world:"
I would add a plug for checking your law school library website and any research guides that may help point you to free resources you can incorporate into your research strategy. Research guides prepared by your law librarians can also help you refresh your memory on how to research a particular topic.
Hackerson notes that "[s]ometimes I’ll even ask a 2L to come back and talk to my next group of 1Ls about his/her summer clerkship experience and how it relates to legal research." Great idea! [JH]