What about teaching something different?
As law librarians, we focus our instructional efforts on teaching legal research skills. Providing students with the ability to make proper database selections, craft quality searches and then navigate the results are our strengths. But what if the opportunity to teach something other than legal research (or even legal writing) comes up?
Our law school has been very receptive to the growth of courses offered by the librarians. Couple this with my interest in legal technology, and I decided to propose a class on Technology in Legal Practice. I knew it wouldn’t look anything like a traditional legal research course, and it would be a very different project. I just finished the final session of the first iteration of the class – how did it go?
It was one of the best teaching experiences of my career.
I knew early on in the process that this would essentially be an accelerated version of a seminar. I would need to have several writing assignments to assess the students and need to put together a lengthy reading list to provide background for the assignments. I also wanted a great deal of discussion in the class to make the sessions livelier. As a pleasant surprise, all of this fell together perfectly. Readings on the various topics of legal technology are copious, generally enjoyable, and well written by practitioners in the field. The students were interested in the topics and more than generous in providing their own insights. I would introduce a question based on the readings or our guest speakers (more on this in a bit), and the students would fill in the next 30 minutes with fascinating insights. To end each class, we would also discuss resources for further research on the given topic. These were often beyond the WEXIS world and introduced new options to their legal arsenal.
The highlight of the class was the regular use of guest speakers. Lawyers, law firm librarians, and state bar leaders are great resources to discuss wide ranging topics including e-discovery, law practice management, and competitive intelligence. It also proved to be a win-win for everyone involved. The speakers spoke of how honored they were to be asked to present, and the students heard first-hand accounts of areas of legal practice not heard nearly enough in law school.
Personally, it was a chance to re-charge my instructional batteries. The topics and teaching methods were new to me and forced me to add numerous other resources to regular readings lists. I now monitor publications such as Law Technology News and Law Technology Today more closely than before, and I am planning to be a part of a legal innovation and technology meet up to network with attorneys, start-up entrepreneurs, and others interested in legal technology issues. And how did it end for the students? It couldn’t have been too bad when a student brings cupcakes adorned with flags bearing the names of various technology vendors.
So has anyone else had the opportunity to step outside a comfort zone with a teaching experience?