Friday, January 2, 2015

The legal research skills new attorneys need for practice

Knowing how to use books is still one of them according to a new article by Professor Patrick Meyer, Director of the Law Library at Detroit Mercy School of Law.  The article, called Law Firm Legal Research Requirements and the Legal Academy Beyond Carnegie, is available at 35 Whittier L. Rev. 419 (2014).  From the introduction:

According to quantitative research conducted by Thomson West (now Thomson Reuters), new associate attorneys can expect to spend 45% of their time conducting research. Yet despite this high percentage, criticism of the research abilities of new associates persists. Two seminal reports published in 2007, the Carnegie Report and Best Practices, concluded that law schools should better focus on preparing students for law practice. This applies to legal research, which takes up so much of one's practice time.


There have been a handful of important recent studies on practice skills that post-date the Carnegie Report, and they are reviewed in this article. All of these studies support a stronger emphasis on legal research training in law schools, and all but one either suggest, or directly call for, an integrated approach where some tasks are taught in both the online and print formats. All but one of these studies surveyed practicing attorneys. The study most critical of new hire research abilities is a survey of law firm librarians. All of these studies show that legal academia must devote more time to teaching legal research, and all but one support my conclusions: that attorneys still use books to conduct research, book usage occurs much more than most people think, and law schools need to teach both online and print-based research for some tasks.


New attorneys frequently lack basic knowledge of how to use research resources, yet this knowledge is the link between legal research and legal analysis. Consequently, it is important to teach students basic usage before moving to more difficult material. This is time well spent since 45% of a new associate's time is spent conducting research. As Best Practices states, “[i]t may not be possible to prepare students fully for the practice of law in three years, but law schools can come much closer than they are doing.”  In short, law schools can do a better job at teaching legal research.


Part II of this article begins with a brief review of the history of legal research deficiencies in the law firm setting and progresses to a summary of several new studies on law firm research practices and abilities. Part II continues by summarizing the results of my 2010 law firm librarian survey, with some comparisons to my 2007 survey in order to detect patterns of research changes amongst one group over the past few years. Part II concludes with a discussion of which sources should be taught in an integrated manner according to my law firm librarian survey. In Part III, I propose a three-part plan to remedy the lack of research acumen amongst new attorneys. First, law schools must assure that all students receive an appropriate amount of basic research instruction in the first year curriculum, to include some print-based research instruction. Second, Advanced Legal Research must be a required course. Finally, I would like to renew the call to include a research component on each state's bar exam.


| Permalink


Post a comment