Who wouldn’t want to be Alicia Florrick?

by Margaret Jane Ambrose
Photo by opensouce.com on flickr

Photo by opensouce.com on flickr

I am adding my two cents to Christina Glon’s excellent post, Setting the Thanksgiving Table on the First Day of ClassLong story short, I agree it is important to entice students to the legal research buffet by whetting their appetites with a well-written syllabus. The only [wish]bone I have to pick with this idea is that I think it is important to recognize two potential obstacles that need to be overcome before students can fully appreciate the smorgasboard of benefits that legal research instruction can bestow upon them.

Photo: fanpop

The first is their own perception of what lawyers do. Anecdotally, we know that many students enter law school with the words of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mocking Bird echoing in their brains, or they remember Jack McCoy on Law and Order.  Or, more recently, what woman (or man, for that matter) thinking about entering the legal profession wouldn’t want to be Alicia Florrick or Diane Lockhart? Personal turmoils aside, they are fierce and smart (not to mention the fact that they are always impeccably dressed).

As great as these characters are, they are just that—characters. They give great closing arguments and lead exciting fictional lives. They have private investigators that do research for them that often leads to a dramatic climax: a secret folder is handed over at the last minute so the character can present a crucial piece of evidence to the court that will crack the case wide open.

Between these dramatic scenes and the many inspiring speeches, there are rarely (virtually never) scenes showing these iconic lawyers toiling away on Wexisberg or consulting a legal treatise. Add to this first obstacle (i.e. legal research is usually left out of the mix of law drama trope), the second obstacle—the fact that first-year law students learn pretty quickly to prioritize what merits brain space if they want to survive their doctrinal classes and earn a decent GPA—and an enticing syllabus may just not be enough for some.

What then is the legal research instructor to do when vying for student attention, competing with scary constitutional law professors and the students’ own perceptions of what happens in legal practice? Certainly, the job is easier after the first summer when law students come back from their first taste of law practice where they were asked to research something they had no clue how to research.

That is not to suggest, however, that I think legal research instruction should take a back seat until students undergo this crucial experience. Instead I think it is important to prime the ground, making it sufficiently fertile so a healthy respect for legal research and its importance can take root. Priming the ground could include giving student a glimpse into their future.

In his article Rebooting Legal Research in a Digital Age, for example, author Steve Lastres points to a survey that indicates that new associates a) spend more than 30% of their time doing legal research and b) in both large and small firms over half of new attorneys found that their firms expected them to have strong legal research skills, but did not provide them with any or very little instruction or training.

Put another way, it is important to clue first-year law students in on the reality that they will be expected to hit the ground running as new associates. They will be expected to be proficient researchers, and they may or may not be given instruction when it is convenient for them to learn these skills in their first few years of their practice. Then it will be sink or swim and could mean the difference between success or failure.

Driving this point home, I and many other Cornell Law Librarians were recently invited to attend a training at Lastres’ firm, Debevoise & Plimpton, to observe how they train their first year associates through their very robust Knowledge Management Services Department (which is a luxury not every first year associate will enjoy). One of the takeaways from that session was that these information professionals wish law students came to them not thinking they know everything about legal research (i.e., step away from the google—or at the very least—maximize your google use). Another takeaway was to quiz new associates—and quiz them in a way that they have to seek out assistance from others. This helps drive home the point to students not only the skills they are learning, but also the fact that they do not know everything about legal research.

Turning back to first year instruction, I think it is important for academic law librarians to expose law students to the types of questions they will encounter as summer associates. Let them sink or swim in a safe environment and find out just how deep the sea of legal research is while they still have the life jacket of academia to keep them safe. Coupled with some facts about how they will be spending their first years in practice and what they will already be expected to know, these types of real world questions can help break down student misconceptions about their own abilities and make what information professionals have to offer much more appealing.

Long story short, by priming the ground to readjust slightly law student priorities, a well-written syllabus as per Christina Glon’s article, can make legal research instruction as enticing as even the most decadent fare this holiday season has to offer.

Photo by praline 3001 on flickr

Photo by praline 3001 on flickr


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The Dead Tree Status Symbol

by Erik Y. Adams

by Okinawa Soba / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In 1989, my law firm made a change regarding desk copies. Up until then, all litigators were issued a six volume, loose-leaf set of local court rules. Starting that year, this set of books was no longer handed out; instead, there were two copies in the library. If an attorney needed to look something up, they could pay us a visit. It was not entirely a popular move, but it did save the firm money.

I think we are now entering the twilight of desk codes. Just as the regular print collection has slowly been transitioning to electronic, so have desk copies. Some firms still give out print codes and other books, but every law librarian I know tells me desk copies are not as common or as plentiful as they used to be. The pace of change isn’t uniform—some law firms are more aggressive, and others less so—but the trend is universal: fewer books are found in attorney offices.

In California, the popular California Practice Guide series used to be a feature on every attorney’s desk. No tax practitioner would be without CCH’s Standard Federal Tax Reporter (and its many black binder friends). The Securities Act Handbook was commonplace. The list goes on and on. Print books that were once widely available to attorneys and maintained at firm expense are now only available electronically.

I used to have some sympathy for people who preferred a physical desk reference to an online resource on user experience grounds. I would hear that it made for a more
comfortable work flow to have a book on the desk, open to the relevant code section, while the word processor sat full screen on the computer monitor. An attorney could easily glance down at the book and then back at the work product without the jarring context shift that accompanies an Alt-Tab jump between word processor and web browser. I don’t feel that way anymore, now that we live in an age of 20-inch monitors (many attorneys have two!) and screen real estate is no longer at a premium.

I’ve talked to colleagues at other firms, and everyone has a horror story about an attorney that wouldn’t make the move to electronic or for whom an exception was made. One firm recently encountered this when a large group of lateral attorneys joined the firm and asked for books their previous firm provided, but which the new firm does not. This has always been a potential problem. A firm might provide the content from one publisher but not another, frustrating new hires used to something different. But now it has the additional hurdle of the move from print to electronic.

Curiously, some publishers use restrictive licensing schemes (like West’s library maintenance agreement) that create a disincentive for completely dropping print. I know of at least one firm that has multiple sets in storage, maintained but unused. Most of these volumes used to be in attorney offices, but in an effort to discourage that behavior (and encourage use the of the electronic version), they’ve been mothballed. The books are still maintained only because the contract requires the firm to keep a minimum number of print copies even while allowing for an unlimited number of users for the electronic version.

I can’t help but wonder if part of our enthusiasm for electronic resources has given print a cachet among attorneys. A large desk and an oriental rug used to be the markers of importance at a law firm. But in an increasingly electronic world, the “dead tree” desk copy has become a kind of status symbol. I can almost hear the attorneys think, “The firm won’t provide this book to everyone. I must be really important.”.

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Setting the Thanksgiving Table on the First Day of Class

by Christina Glon

by Satya Murphy / CC BY 2.0

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2015 Teaching Professor Conference, a national conference specifically designed for college professors that includes Atlanta as a favorite venue.  One of the sessions I attended was entitled Setting the Learning Table: First Day of Class Strategies to Stimulate Intellectual Hunger by Dr. Faye Chechowich, Dean of Faculty Development at Taylor University. Dr. Chechowich used the traditional Thanksgiving feast as a metaphor for the “feast of information” we present each semester throughout our courses. Our job as instructors, she offered, is to guide and welcome students to the feast that we have laid out for them, and the first step along that journey is the syllabus. A good syllabus should whet their appetite for the upcoming feast. With the fall semester winding down (and Thanksgiving right around the corner!), it seemed only natural to consider reworking my syllabus for my spring class.

Expanding on the Thanksgiving metaphor, I hope that my syllabus and the first day of my class can equal the anticipation you feel when you first smell the turkey as you walk up to your host’s door, or catch a glimpse of the table as you walk through the house and greet all the friends and family gathered for the feast. Dr. Chechowich offered various examples and icebreaker activities that can help cultivate excitement on the first day of class.  In applying her principles to teaching legal research, two things really stood out to me.  First, she says, “We cannot feed the students; they must feed themselves. We can only offer-up the feast.” We cannot do the research for the students and/or new associates, but we can set the table with the best sources for legal information and empower them to feed themselves. By actually teasing them with the variety of sources they will use and the skills they will develop over the course of the semester, we have a chance to create some anticipation and interest in the upcoming topics.

Second, Dr. Chechowich explains the benefits of pointing out how your class fits in with the bigger picture of their semester, major, and/or their entire university education.  Citing Ken Bain’s 2004 book, What the Best College Teachers Do, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Publishing), Dr. Chechowich explained:

“Extraordinary teachers begin their course by describing to their students the ‘promises or opportunities the course offer[s] and what the students [will] be doing to realize those promises.'”

I think this is an easy concept to incorporate in teaching legal research. After all, we are teaching them the fundamental skills necessary to be a lawyer, right? If you can’t find the law, you can’t very well “practice” the law, can you!? I put this idea in to practice this fall with my Health Law Research class.  Health law is an enormous area of law and can involve an intimidating amount of regulatory research. On the first day of class, I told the students we were going to tackle regulatory law (together), and I promised that when we were done, they would be able to research ANY regulatory issues they encountered throughout their career. Because the fundamental research skills they were about to develop over the course of the semester actually work on all types of law and research, not just health law. If they choose to take advantage of the time we spend together, I can equip them for researching almost any topic. Combine that with the doctrinal courses and other practical courses, and suddenly my little health law research class became a vital component of their entire law school curriculum. Bring on the lecture! Let’s master this “research” thing!

As you wind up this semester and prepare for Spring 2016, consider whether your syllabus and/or your first-day-of-class routine could use a little tweaking. Is there something else you could do to whet their appetite for developing more legal research skills? Maybe, just maybe, making your class the most valuable law school class ever? Now, who wants some turkey?!

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Clio Cloud Conference

by Amy Taylor

I attended the Clio Cloud Conference in Chicago last month. Clio is practice-management software for the solo and small-firm market. A few of its features include: time tracking, billing, integration with Fastcase, bank-grade security, legal accounting, and calendars. If you would like to see it for yourself, Clio also offers an academic access program. I am planning on using it in my next advanced legal research class.

ClioThe conference was divided into 3 tracks: Clio University, Business of Law, and Legal Technology. Clio University was a bootcamp for using Clio and taking advantage of its features. It included sessions on security, document automation, and billing. The Business of Law track included sessions on measuring law firm performance and moving legal education into the 21st century. The Legal Technology track focused on trends in tech, using legal tech to improve your marketing, developing a personal brand, and tech project management.

It was a fabulous conference and provided a chance to network with people I would not have met otherwise. (Plus meals and snacks were delicious and included with registration.) Check out the twitter stream at #cliocloud9 if you want more details. The 2016 conference will take place on Monday, September 19th and Tuesday, September 20th in Chicago.

Please let me know if you have any questions about the conference. I highly recommend it!

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Are Library Maintenance Agreements Too Restrictive In Today’s e-World?

by Jamie Baker

An October 2015 post on the LAW-LIB discussion list asked about West Library Maintenance Agreements (LMAs). The conversation centered around libraries that are contemplating leaving their LMAs, and issue that has been circulating among law librarians for several years now. Continue reading

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Holidays on Reference

by Christine Anne George

Me dressed up as Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Last year, I was a champ. At least according to the Washington Post’s blog, I was a champ. It was a bit gratifying (if not a little mortifying because I didn’t think the picture would get around) because some people didn’t believe me when I said that I would be dressed up as Ruth Bader Ginsburg for Halloween. When I say I’m going to be dressing up as a Supreme Court Justice, I am going to be dressing up as a Supreme Court Justice.

I had my reference shift and enjoyed passing out candy to the patrons who came in and did a double take when they realized Continue reading

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On the Value of eTextbooks, and a shameless plug

by Beau Steenken

Opensourceway / CC BY-SA

I recently returned to my office after six weeks of parental leave. Among the veritable horde of mailings awaiting my return was the July-September issue of Legal Reference Services Quarterly. In it, I found a very persuasive article by Jeremy J. McCabe arguing for the adoption of electronic casebooks. (Jeremy J. McCabe, Following the Herd: Bringing Electronic Casebooks into the Law School, 34 Legal Reference Services Q. 196 (2015).) Continue reading

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