Tuesday, July 1, 2014

AALL Task Force Report on the state of new lawyers' legal research skills

A special task force appointed by the Academic Law Libraries Special Interest Section (“ALL-SIS”) of the Association of American Law Libraries ("AALL") has just released its 2014 report identifying the legal research practices, skills and proficiencies of new lawyers.  The purpose of the task force was to identify the legal research skills new lawyers need to succeed in practice.  For the 2014 report, a survey was distributed to both practicing attorneys as well as law librarians to enable the task force to compare the responses from each group regarding how often attorneys used particular research tools and their proficiency with them.  The second portion of the survey asked respondents how well recent law school graduates performed certain legal research skills. 

Perhaps not suprisingly, the law librarian respondents rated the proficiency of new lawyers "significantly more negative" than similarly situated lawyers rated themselves.  As the introduction notes "on question after question, a significantly greater proportion of the librarians rated the ability of recent graduates to carry out the research task at issue as 'unacceptable,' 'poor' or both, than did the attorneys."

Among the other findings:

  • 33.6% of associates responded that they “frequently” or “very frequently” start their research using Google whereas 84.5% of law firm librarian observers responded that associates “frequently” or “very frequently” begin their research using Google;
  • 48% of associates note they use “terms and connectors” searching “very frequently” whereas 18.6% of law firm librarian observers responded that associates “very frequently” use “terms and connectors” searching;
  • Only 4.8% of associates indicated they never use print materials;
  • 34.1% of associates indicate they “frequently” use “free Internet” resources;
  • 5.6% of associates indicated using law reviews “frequently” but 61.1% noted they “rarely” or “never” use law reviews;
  • 7.8 of associates indicating they can “develop an effective research plan” “very well” whereas 0% of law firm librarian observers indicated associates could “develop an effective research plan” “very well”;
  • 27.4% of associates responded they could research case law “very well” but only 9.2% of law firm librarians noted associates could do this “very well”;
  • 0% of law firm librarian observers noted that associates could perform cost-effective legal research “very well” while 7.1% of associates thought they could do this “very well”; and
  • No law firm librarian observer remarked that associates could use Lexis or Westlaw “very well.”

Read the full Task Force Report here.

Hat tip to Professor Eric Young.



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Eric, the obnoxious title of your CLE course is unfortunate. Yet I'll have a look.

Posted by: Alphonsus Jr. | Jul 9, 2014 2:17:10 PM

I recall The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law having good legal research advice.

Posted by: Alphonsus Jr. | Jul 9, 2014 2:15:43 PM

Other surveys show that partners at law firms are generally dissatisfied with the research skills of their associates. (Two articles by Professor Meyer are posted at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=1093004.) Thus, I created a CLE course, "Becoming a Rock Star Researcher." My CLE walks attorneys through twelve steps for statutory research and eight steps for common law research. I have reviewed the CLE calendars for many state and local bar associations and could not find a similar course.

Posted by: Eric Voigt | Jul 3, 2014 12:33:26 PM

Wow. These are really interesting results, particularly the split on how often certain secondary sources are used. I'm not sure how representative the sample size is, though.

Posted by: Former Editor | Jul 2, 2014 7:57:48 AM

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