Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Teaching Legal Research: The New Technology

One of the biggest debates concerning teaching legal research is how much to teach printed sources and how much to teach on-line sources.  Teaching legal research has traditionally began with teaching the books because legal writing teachers have felt that the fundamentals of legal research were in the print sources.  However, legal research changed dramatically in the late 80s and early 90s with the appearance of Lexis and Westlaw and the Internet.  Moreover, our students are accustomed to doing research on-line, rather than in books.  Does this mean that we should be teaching legal research differently today than ten or twenty years ago.  Two authors say yes.    

Say Goodbye to the Books: Information Literacy as the New Legal Research Paradigm by Ellie Margolis & Kristen Murray

Abstract: Legal research technology has changed dramatically in the last fifteen years, and it is time for law school legal research programs to catch up. Students entering law school are increasingly less comfortable with using print materials, and at the same time, electronic search technology is no longer modeled on a print-based system. Current legal research pedagogy, developed in the context of a print-based research environment, is waning in utility and may soon be moot. In order to give law students the skills to conduct effective legal research, and to adapt those skills to future technological development, we need to rethink how we teach and assess legal research.

This article argues that we should make information literacy the foundation of legal research instruction. By reframing the goal of legal research instruction as increasing the information literacy (specifically, the legal information literacy) of our students, we will be able to leverage the research skills they already possess and instill in them skills that are transferable to the legal research tools of tomorrow. The article first traces the history of how legal research is taught and introduces the idea of information literacy as a new way of thinking about legal research instruction. It then presents the results of our survey of incoming law students’ research training, habits, practices, and beliefs. Finally, it discusses how the theory of information literacy and our survey results can be used to rethink the way legal research is taught. With this in mind, we can begin to develop methods of research instruction that result in an increased level of legal information literacy, no matter the students’ starting points.

(Scott Fruehwald

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