Models for teaching legal research

Law librarians agree that law students need to develop their legal research skills.  How do we help them do that?  At some schools, librarians may teach basic, advanced, and specialized legal research courses for course credit.  At the University of Arizona, students are able to take a legal research boot camp taught by a combination of seasoned librarians and library school students who already have earned their J.D.s.

Sometimes, however, teaching legal research courses for course credit may not be an option—it takes a tremendous amount of planning and work to teach, and the library continues to need librarian attention even when the librarian is teaching.

Law libraries have other models for teaching law students legal research skills.  Many libraries offer elective educational programming.  Subjects that may be addressed in these one-off training sessions include Bluebook citation, Boolean citation, developing a research strategy, and particular database training.  The O’Quinn Law Library at the University of Houston Law Center offers monthly brown bag programs during the noon hour.  The University of Minnesota Law Library and the Alexander Campbell King Law Library at the University of Georgia offer lunch time programming.   Student availability during the noon hour assures that in many libraries these sessions are offered as “brown bag” programming—or as programming with library-provided food.

Other libraries offer certificates of completion for a series of workshops.  In the competitive economic climate, students are often eager to demonstrate to prospective employers that their legal research skills are strong.  For example, Oklahoma City University School of Law  has a program in which participants may earn an Award of Accomplishment.  New York Law School takes another approach, as the library’s voluntary research skills sessions may fulfill the research skills workshop requirement of their Legal Practice Program.  Although the program is in a hiatus, Hamline University Law Library had great success in offering a Legal Research Skills Series certificate for students who completed nine modules of legal research training.  The librarians managed participation in the program through The West Education Network (TWEN).

Of course, not only law students need to develop their legal research skills.  Public librarians in South Carolina benefit from the Circuit Riders Program offered by the Coleman Karesh Law Library at the University of South Carolina School of Law.  The program provides legal research education focused on public librarians throughout the state.  The public librarians are then better-trained to assist patrons with legal research questions.

The Public Law Library of King County provides classes for members of the general public, covering topics such as basic civil procedure, how to begin a law suit, use of the county’s eFiling system, basic legal research, and skip tracing.  The courses offered at the LA Law Library include basics on print resources, free online legal research, and Westlaw.

Many models exist for teaching legal research skills, whether to law students, librarians, or the general public.  What have your experiences been with these programs?  Is there a model you prefer?

 

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