Letting 1Ls Leave the Nest

by Beau Steenken

Wikimedia Commons Image

This week, I am teaching the final classes for this year’s 1L Legal Research. (At U.K., we teach nine classes spread out over the fall, and another six spread out over the spring, but we end early each semester before students start concentrating on exams.) The topic of this last class is cost-effective legal research, and while that topic could probably itself be an entire advanced legal research course, I like ending my 1L class with it for two reasons.  First, I think students benefit from being reminded that West, Lexis, and Bloomberg are not the naturally-occurring, free resources that they appear to be in law school. After all, in two scant months the 1Ls will find themselves outside of the nurturing environment of law school (all things are relative) and in various employment contexts featuring different views of efficiency and the “time-is-money” equation. Second, I find that the cost-effective topic serves as a convenient vehicle for a recap of things they have learned throughout the course, because it allows me to stress (one last time) how good research methods lead to more efficient research.

Because of the two different factors I try to cover though, I tend to split my class into two parts (three, if you count the time reserved for course evaluations as our administration likes all teachers to do during our last class periods). Part one of the class quickly introduces students to the use of no-cost or zero-cost alternatives to the full-service research platforms. I remind my students that not all questions require Westlaw/Lexis/Bloomberg to answer (sometimes I think law students struggle with this concept and end up using their search platform of choice as a crutch), by asking them to find quickly the citation to Marbury v. Madison. Most students realize they can do this with Google, which allows me to also give them a refresher in information literacy and to introduce them to both Google Scholar and the LII.  I then transition to showing them Casemaker, access to which comes with bar membership in Kentucky. A number of our students end up working at smaller firms in rural areas of Kentucky that do not subscribe to one of the big platforms, so I think it is important that they be introduced to the alternative. I particularly think it is important to point out the strengths and weaknesses of alternative platforms, as often a cheaper price tag means more reliance on computer-generated content, which users need to be able to recognize in order to use its strengths while countering its weaknesses. I end the first section by reminding them, though, that the ultimate low-cost resource remains their friendly law library.

The second part of the class then transitions to ways to increase research efficiency when one finds oneself using the expensive stuff. I stress to the students that employers do not like Westlaw-flailing that they cannot bill to clients, and so their research needs to be targeted. I sometimes tell my students that this is my soapbox lecture (though I have yet to bring in an actual soapbox… one of these days), in which I get to tell them all the things they should remember as they go off to work over the summer. I usually do it in list form, and usually the students themselves are able to fill it in from things I’ve repeated all year: ask a librarian, consult a secondary source first, use an index instead of full-text searching for initial research, use connections from authorities on point (such as headnotes or citing references) to find other authorities on point, beware over-reliance on natural language searches, and ask a librarian a second time if you get stuck. After the students complete the list, I remind them that the law library remains open all summer should they need reference assistance (though I also remind them to consult their employer’s librarian first, should their employer have one), and wish them luck in their further pursuits.

Thus, while I don’t think one class session can really teach “cost-effective” research, I like having a class devoted to it, because it messages to the students to start thinking about research in a work context and because it allows me one last chance to stress the important stuff before the 1Ls go off on their own (with the reminder that they can always call the library even if they’re off on their own)!

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Alternative Group Work Activities

by Margaret Ambrose

At the beginning of last semester, I asked my colleagues: “What is the ideal group size when having students work on problems in class?”

I got several answers, all within the 3-5 range. Generally, the feedback centered around the need to limit group size to prevent some students from relying too heavily on others to do all of the work. This advice panned out nicely, but it also got me to think more about group dynamics and best practices when incorporating collaborative learning into the lesson plan.

I was, therefore, happy to find the Center for Teaching Excellence at Cornell that has a page specifically devoted to collaborative learning. They recommend breaking students up to work in groups of four or five when it comes to having students work on case studies, or in the case of legal research, work on a hypothetical research scenario.

What I found to be most interesting, however, were the other types of collaborative learning activities. Below I’ve outlined some thoughts on how to incorporate these alternative group work activities into research instruction.

Stump Your Partner

In this activity students take a moment to write a question based on the lecture or class readings. They then try to ‘stump’ their partner with a question. This tactic may appeal to the tendency towards a competitive nature among law students. It may also help to encourage students to engage with any assigned reading. CTE also recommends having students write these question down and then using the questions that students come up with to test for comprehension.


In the context of legal research instruction, not only might it be useful to have students work independently on a problem and then compare answers, but also to have students compare how they approached the research scenario. An important learning objective to research instruction is to convey that there is no one sure research method or approach that will work best in every situation. Using this tactic may help emphasize to students that when it comes to research, there is usually more than one way to skin a cat. As a researcher, it is important to be able to employ many different strategies in any given situation.


This is a learning strategy that might be most useful when teaching a class of LLMs filled with international students. In such classes, even more so than a typical class of 1Ls, students come to the table with different backgrounds and experiences, not to mention possible language barriers and different cultures and traditions that affect class participation.

Taking a moment to have students compare notes on a lecture and ask each other questions might give students an opportunity to first vet clarifying questions with a classmate in a manner that is less intimidating than asking the instructor in front of the whole class.

Fishbowl debate

Using this technique might make discussions about assessing research platforms more lively. Having one student ‘defend’ using Westlaw, while having another ‘defend’ Lexis, while a third student sits in judgment of which of her peers made the best case might result in some interesting outcomes while students also earn to be savvy consumers of legal information products.

As I have yet to fully incorporate some of these strategies myself – if you have any experience with any of the collaborative learning strategies listed above – please comment below and share your thoughts.

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The Bluebook and the Purpose of Citations

by Erik Adams

I don’t expect many of you to appreciate the subtle science and exact art that is potion-making. However, for those select few who possess the predisposition… I can teach you how to bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses. I can tell you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even put a stopper in death. — Professor Snape

Image Retrieved from Pixabay

In my library we are frequently asked for the proper “Bluebook” form of citation for a document. My inner cataloger, a lover of rules and precise objective description, relishes these questions. But like Professor Snape at the first day of class at Hogwarts, I don’t expect attorneys to really appreciate the beauty of a well-formed citation. Talk to any law firm librarian, and they will have a story that follows this pattern: an attorney has decided to cite to an unusual document. The unusual document hasn’t been picked up by Lexis or Westlaw, and so doesn’t have a “LEXIS” or “WL” citation. The attorney has made an attempt to cite properly but would like the librarian to take a look.

To be sure, the rules of proper citation laid out in The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation can be daunting. It has more than 500 pages (as of the 20th edition) of directives, exceptions, and lists of abbreviations, covering everything from deposition transcripts to web pages. It can be difficult for experienced law librarians. But there are a couple of issues I’ve encountered recently that I think could be addressed in attorney instruction that would improve the quality of citations.

First, attorneys seem to forget what the purpose of a citation is. The Bluebook makes this pretty clear, right on page 1: “The central function of a legal citation is to allow the reader to efficiently locate the cited source.” Any citation that omits critical information or garbles it up has failed in this simple goal.

I was recently tasked with generating a proper citation for a trial court order. According to The Bluebook, for a trial court order, you provide the name of the document, the name of the case, and then other identifying information like the court and docket number. My attorney was confused by this; he was used to citing reported cases where you put the case name first, then identifying information; the title of the document itself is generally omitted. I had to explain to him that just providing the name of the litigants would be ambiguous and ultimately would not be enough information to guide someone else (like a judge) to a document.

I think this is an opportunity for an attorney to try out a little role playing. If they encountered their citation, without any context, would they be able to connect that citation to the correct document? If the answer is no, they have failed.

The second issue that stands out is a lack of appreciation for the difference between an appellate decision and a trial court order. I don’t mean that attorneys don’t understand the procedural differences; most attorneys seem to have a grasp of basic civics. I mean that because case reporters make it appear that every appellate decision has only one document worth citing in a case, there will be only one order in a trial court worth citing, and simply citing to “the trial court order” will be sufficient. Often it is not.

To deal with this situation, I generally like to send the attorney the full trial court docket, and make obvious the problem by asking “do you mean the order at docket entry #78? Or the one at docket entry #123?”

On the other hand, when an attorney comes to me with a baffling citation, and I’m able to find the document, in spite of incomplete, garbled, or incorrect information, I look like a wizard. Which is as close to bewitching the mind and ensnaring the senses that a law librarian can get.

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Learning Theories and Law: Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism

by Ashley Ahlbrand

As I noted in a previous post, I am currently pursuing a graduate certificate in instructional design. The course I am taking this semester is heavily theory-based, and thus we have spent a good portion of the semester taking a deep dive into learning theories. People seem to naturally prefer one learning theory over another, but in reality, they all have their place in education. This post will describe three popular learning theories and ways in which they can be employed in legal education.


As its name suggests, behaviorism focuses on learning as expressed through behavior. A common example given is that a learner, when presented with an equation (stimulus), should be able to produce the proper solution (response). Instruction that employs a behaviorist theory emphasizes repetition and reinforcement as the means to achieve mastery; mastery comes when the learner is able to generalize this new knowledge and apply it to other, similar scenarios.

Behaviorism can be a good theory to employ in a pre-test scenario, to measure how much students already know on a topic, and therefore where to begin instruction. For instance, we give a pre-test at the beginning of the semester to our Advanced Legal Research students to get an idea of where the class is starting in terms of preset legal research knowledge. Other examples could include quizzes on the previous night’s readings, or even something less formal, like inserting Poll Everywhere or clicker-based questions in the middle of a lecture to gauge student understanding.


In contrast to behaviorism’s emphasis on the learner’s outward performance, cognitivism shifts the focus internal, to the learners’ processing of information, and their ability to relate new information to preexisting knowledge. Significant emphasis is placed on the learners’ organization of information. The instructor’s role is viewed more as a guide; they are tasked to not only help students adequately structure their knowledge for better recall and application, but also to understand the importance of what they are learning. “[T]he learner must believe that the knowledge is useful in a given situation before he or she will activate it” (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 52).

A cognitivist approach is ideal for teaching higher levels of learning, such as critical analysis and problem-solving. Many topics in law are relational in nature – court structure, the relationship between statutes, cases, and regulations, the hierarchy of legal information, etc. – so generating efficient methods of processing this information is critical. Feedback plays a crucial role in cognitivist theory; rather than simply telling a student the right answer to a missed quiz question, provide a student with advice on how to approach the problem differently in the future. Other elements of instruction that take a more cognitivist approach would include concept mapping, handouts or other lecture materials that emphasize the organization of the information being taught, and the use of metaphor or analogy.


Constructivism focuses even more on what the individual brings to the topic being learned. Focusing on preexisting knowledge and the unique backgrounds of each individual learner, constructivists believe that learners apply new knowledge to their own realities, and that therefore they will construct their own meaning from the knowledge being acquired. In constructivist thinking, meaning is constantly evolving, and one’s knowledge of a particular concept takes on new meanings every time it is applied in a new situation or perspective; therefore “it is critical that learning occur in realistic settings and that the selected learning tasks be relevant to the students’ lived experiences” (Ertmer & Newby, p. 56).

Law is a discipline often associated with constructivist teaching, through internships and apprenticeships; by extension, you could consider clinical work constructivist. Within a more traditional classroom, collaborative learning, group work, and debate are effective constructivist teaching methodologies. The instructor in a constructivist setting takes serves as mentor, encouraging the learner to consider the application of this new knowledge in different scenarios and from different viewpoints.

And the winner is…?

The point of this post is not to claim that one learning theory is “better” than another. One prominent scholar in this area suggests that different learning theories are appropriate for different levels of knowledge acquisition; behaviorism and cognitivism are better approaches at the beginner’s level and constructivism is appropriate as the learner moves to more advanced levels (Jonassen, 1991). For instance, a first-year research course might employ behaviorist and cognitivist techniques to ensure that students digest basic legal research fundamentals; treasure hunt assignments, where repetition and recall are key, and closed research memos could be appropriate assessments at this level. An advanced research course could then challenge the upper-level student to apply these skills in new ways, based on real-world scenarios; open research memos and other research-based writing, such as advisory briefs, analytical reports, etc., could be appropriate assessments for challenging students to take their previously learned research knowledge and apply it in new and diverse ways.

Theory is not everyone’s cup of tea. The readings can be tedious, and sometimes they just seem full of hot air. Yet one great advantage I have found in exploring learning theory is that it has caused me to think critically about every instructional decision I make in teaching. What is the point of this research exercise? How is it challenging my students to apply the concept just taught? Is my instruction focused appropriately on what the students need to learn on a topic, or have I gone far afield? Even in the guest lecture context, where I am sometimes given specific instruction on what to cover in the lecture, does the handout I created efficiently and effectively organize the material being covered? If you’re at all curious about learning theory, I encourage you to explore these at greater length. You may find you learn a bit about yourself along the way.


Peggy A. Ertmer & Timothy J. Newby, Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features from an Instructional Design Perspective, 26 Perf. Improvement Q. 43-71 (2013).

David Jonassen, Evaluating Constructivistic Learning, 31 Educ. Tech. 28-33 (1991).

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Of Boardgames, Grading Rubrics, and Instructional Style

by Tig Wartluft

I’m a gamer; my wife, not so much. I say this because I’ve spent years trying to find board games that she and I both enjoy playing equally. A couple of weeks ago I finally found one. I like it because it is well balanced and its mechanics are well designed and easily understandable. My wife likes it because of its theme.

So what does this have to do with instruction? Well, I’ve recently been thinking about game theory, gamification, the potential use of related ideas like digital badges and how these techniques and approaches could be leveraged into making the instruction of legal research more entertaining and enjoyable for students. The theory goes that if they are enjoying themselves, they are more invested in internalizing the skills of legal research instead of simply memorizing the facts. Most students finally realize the importance of what they learned in our 1L research class once they’ve had their first summer internship experience. I want to explore if the use of game theory and other techniques can make students more invested in what they are learning before they’ve gone away for the summer.

Board Game Chance Dice Pawn Game

CC 0 – Public Domain

The board-game example brought to light an obvious issue: everyone approaches a problem differently. I get interested in a game because of its mechanics and balance. I don’t really care if, as a player, I’m a viking, or a wildlife photographer, or a power company. A game’s theme or story doesn’t matter as much to me as the quality of the design and the balance of play. My wife cares about the theme. Sure, if the mechanics aren’t very good she’ll find she doesn’t like playing it so much, but she’s not examining the design as much as she’s just got a feeling that the game wasn’t so fun. And she’s willing to overlook a lot in the way of game design and mechanics if the game has a good story or an interesting theme.

I tend to approach my legal research teaching in the same fashion: I teach and am interested in the underlying structure of the process. I look at the structure of the legal problem beneath the details. But perhaps I need to pay more attention to the obvious details, i.e. the theme. I’m always amazed at how wrong (in my mind) a student can read a problem, finding interpretations and red herrings that require some serious mental gymnastics on my part to see how they arrived at their answer. I try to account for these surprises when creating my grading rubrics by making sure there’s enough wiggle room in my proposed scoring to accommodate alternate interpretations and approaches. This week I was able to look at and discuss another instructor’s rubrics (in a totally different subject area), and I was struck again at the differing approach that instructor took. Their rubric was looking for concrete content, instead of underlying structure. Their approach worked well for them; it kept them grading consistently. The discussion we had was interesting to me because of the vastly differing approaches we took to the same instructional product. For the second time in one week I was struck by how egocentric my perspective becomes when I’m not actively checking my assumptions.

Regarding gamification, I’ve recently been working on how to make a game out of the regional and federal case reporter system. I was hoping that if I made a game out of the historical grouping of states within the reporter system and the organization of the Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals, my students learn something while also having fun. Additionally, I think the whole system of reporters will make more sense if my students have to interact with a physical representation of the organization, instead of only encountering the reporters as citation requirements without a more geographically centered understanding.

This approach was inspired by what I learned while gaming as a kid: like how kids who grew up playing Risk know where Kamchatka is, and those who played Axis and Allies know the strategic importance of Gibraltar. While I think I’ve got a version of my reporter game that might be ready to test, I’m going to change my planned approach to playtesting and not be a player in the early playtests. This way I can see how others will take what I’ve designed and interpret it. After these recent experiences, I expect that to happen in ways vastly different than anything I could even imagine.

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Off the Library Map

by Paul Gatz

Every library should have a good map. A map offers a perspective that you cannot otherwise gain. From above, you can see the whole library spread out before you, enabling you to take it all in with one glance – the locations of different collections and call number runs, service points, computer labs, study rooms, and even seating options.


Odd angles do not make a space any less logical.

For the library user, a great deal of information can be conveyed in such a map – not just information about how the library is set up, but information about how knowledge is structured. State and federal materials have their own distinct areas, as do monographs and journals. If your map is supplemented with a breakdown of the major KF classifications, the user can become familiar with the major subject areas of law.

Of course, the map is an abstract representation, obscuring just as much as it reveals. After all, a knowledge of the KF schedules does not equal a knowledge of the law, just as a perusal of the library map does not equal a full appreciation of the library. Plainly, one cannot fully understand the structure of the library space when looking at a representation that omits one entire dimension of that space.

An accurate representation of the space of the library is no incidental thing. Borrowing from the early Wittgenstein when he notes that “[t]he facts in logical space are the world,” we might posit that “documents in logical space are a library.” Space is pure possibility and potentiality. A logical space is one constrained by rule-bound necessities. That logic dictates how you can move within that space – what you can do, say, or know. This idea of logical space is similar to the concept of “affordance.”

As librarians, one of our key duties is to design the logical space in which our users interact with information to create knowledge. This is not limited to the physical space of our building, our shelves, and our seating. It also includes the spaces we create online, as well as what could be called the service space that encompasses the range of interactions that are possible between users, on the one hand, and librarians and other library staff, on the other.

A library map can serve not only as a tool to aid library users in their navigation of the library, but also can be used by librarians to understand and evaluate the affordances provided to the user by the physical space of the library. Likewise, librarians may find it helpful to “map” the other, non-physical spaces of the library in order to better understand and improve the structure of those spaces – to define what the library user can do within them and how. Our libraries do not exist in just two or three dimensions, and our library maps should not be so limited either.

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RIPS Reviews Poster Session Proposals

As you’re probably all aware, the call for posters at the Annual Meeting in Austin recently opened up. The submissions are due by Friday, April 14. We hope to see lots of RIPS members sharing ideas about the awesome programs and services they’re offering at their law libraries. Poster sessions are great way to share and connect with other AALL members.

The RIPS Program Committee is here to help you as your draft your proposal. We can help with the language of your proposal and help you sort out your ideas. If you’d like feedback on your proposal, please send your blurb to Alyson Drake at alyson.drake@ttu.edu by noon PST on Friday, March 31st.

The Committee will read all proposals and submit feedback to the proposers by noon on Friday, April 7th. If you have an idea, but don’t want to do a poster alone, let us know; we can try to connect you with other RIPS members who are doing similar projects.

Alyson Drake
RIPS Vice-Chair
Chair, RIPS Program Committee

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