Friday, November 16, 2012

Thinking About How We Teach Research in Light of Law Firm Billing Trends

As the semester draws to a close and we look ahead, the ABAJournal has provided some interesting food for thought concerning legal research costs.  A November 14th post notes that more law firms are absorbing the costs of electronic legal research, particularly in connection with transactional matters.  Many of us devote class time to tips for free and low cost legal research, and should perhaps increase emphasis on these skills in light of the changing legal market.  

Hat tip: ABA Journal


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We do a terrible disservice to future lawyers in law school in two ways: the way we teach and the way we test.

A much more effective model of teaching research would be to refuse the "free" unlimited research model, where law students are not forced to deal with a research budget. Instead, along with their written product, law students in LRW courses (and ll their subsequent courses) should be required to submit a research costs bill for each assignment showing all the time that they spent using both online and library resources and their research history so that the prof can evaluate their research skills and habits. After all, when the prof only looks at the memo or brief, the message is that only that part matters, and that it's ok if you spent 40 hours to find what should have been found in four.

The second way to improve the prospects for future attorneys would be to eliminate closed book essays entirely. Instead, all testing should be open book with use of online resources, and the students should have abundant time to complete the work. But, along with the essays, they have to submit their research history ... What resources did they consult, in what order. Students would get an assignment at, say, 5 pm on a Friday, wih a deadline to turn it in of 5 pm Monday. When submitted (electronically) the time of submission is stamped on the message, and a score multiplier is computed.

When grading, the prof would grade the essay, and then the score multiplier would be used to adjust the grade to account for the time spent. The prof would have a norm for the assignment, and essays turned in in less time would get a multiplier greater than 1.0. Those turned in but after the norm time would see their multiplier be progressively lower, all the way to zero after the final deadline.

Thus, students would have to grapple with the reality of the primary challenge of actual law practice, time management and deciding where your time is best spent. Students would be forced to learn to optimize rather than maximize, which is what clients need.

Posted by: John Gear | Nov 17, 2012 8:52:20 AM

It seems like the most logical and fair solution is the pass-thru cost to the client. With the continued advancement of the Internet, search engines, information retrieval and walled gardens for legal research -- these 3rd party costs should also continue to slightly decline, which again can be of benefit to the client in lower pass-thru costs.

Posted by: Loretta Ruppert - PCLaw Billing Software | Jan 20, 2013 6:57:07 AM

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