Are we teaching our law students what their employers want them to know?

Last week, I attended the annual meeting for the Southeastern American Association of Law Libraries (SEAALL). Like all meetings, it had its ups and downs, but there was one session that truly left me thinking, because it helped answer the timeless question of “are we teaching our law students the right things?”

I attended the SEAALL pre-conference Institute, which was titled “Assessing the Effectiveness of Legal Research and Writing Instruction: Are Our Students Learning What We Teach?” We heard quite a bit about what other schools are doing with their research and writing programs, but the session that truly stood out was the panel of firm and court librarians who came to tell us what they were experiencing with our students and what they wished that the students knew before showing up on the first day. The session, “Employers’ Perspectives on Legal Research & Writing Skills: Can our employees/your students do cost effective research?,” was presented by Mary Jane Slipsky from Nelson Mullins, Columbia, SC, Janet Meyer from the Supreme Court of South Carolina, and Margaret Dye from Hunton & Williams, Atlanta, GA.

All of the ladies gave excellent advice. Some of the requests I have heard many times before, but there were a few that were new to me. Here are some of the pieces of advice that I intend to pass on to my students this coming Wednesday during our final class in hopes that they will give the firm librarians more “street cred” than they give to me:

  • Civics 101 – know and understand the state and federal court systems for your jurisdiction. • Grammar Counts – e.g., know the grammatically correct way to use “they” rather than the PC method. (This is apparently a pet peeve of a South Carolina Supreme Court Judge.)
  • Think before you research. Have a plan of attack.
  • Attribute your quotes.
  • Do not cite a case unless you have read it.
  • Students should know how to use PACER. (I must admit, I was surprised by this one)
  • Do NOT blow through warning boxes that you are going outside of your subscription.
  • Print resources are still alive, and students should know when to use them over electronic resources.
  • ASK the librarians for help! (One of my favorites, and emphasized by all three panelists)

If you would like to read the handouts that were provided by the panelists, they are available at under session 2. Here is my question for you, whether you are an academic, firm, court, or public law librarian: What do you wish that law students or recent grads knew?

This entry was posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Legal Research Instruction, Teaching (general) and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Are we teaching our law students what their employers want them to know?

  1. Becka Rich says:


    I have a white paper on what employers want law students to know that a law firm librarian passed on to me. Would that be helpful to you?


  2. Grace Hum says:

    Jennifer: I’ve got the conference for you! University of San Francisco School of Law is hosting a legal writing conference on August 26-27, 2011, entitled, “How to Hit the Ground Writing: Meeting the Expectations of the Changing Legal Market.” During the conference, we’ll explore legal employers’ expectations of research and writing for first-year lawyers given the changing legal market and showcase how legal writing professors are helping their students meet those expectations. Email us at for more information.

    Becka: If you’re willing to share it, I’d love to see the white paper that you mentioned.

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