I remember the first “real” legal research problem I had. An attorney who I wanted to work with had a friend who ran a bar. The bar wanted to show NFL football games. The bar owner installed a satellite dish that could get all the games. It was only after he received a tersely worded letter from the NFL that he realized he might be running afoul of some kind of law. Enter the enthusiastic, so new she still liked practicing law, just sworn in, lawyer. I volunteered to research the issue and see if he really had to stop showing the games or pay up. The lawyer was happy to use my services. I was hopeful it would lead to a real job, and I left with my assignment in hand.
But then I panicked. I lived 100 miles from my law school. I didn’t have access to Westlaw or Lexis. I had never done legal research outside of the law library and university library. I drove home despondent; thinking of where I could possibly get information.
And that, despondent in their car with a research assignment in hand, and no idea where to go, is where many law school graduates start their professional legal research life. As librarians, it is part of our job to push them out of the nest with enough knowledge so they can fly (or at least flap safely to another tree).
The first thing we must do is to make students aware of the resources available to them at libraries outside of the law school library. Make sure they know that they can go to most school law libraries and use their resources. They need to know that there are state and county law libraries (although sadly fewer than there used to be) available. Don’t overlook bar (or other) association libraries and the resources they provide members. Finally, students need to remember to check public libraries for useful resources (Florida public libraries subscribe to Gale Legal Forms, as does the Kansas City public library).
There are many ways to expose students to this information. If there is an exit orientation for your graduates, that would be a great place to give them this kind of helpful information. If not, you might want to use a LibGuide (here is an example of both public library resources and a LibGuide with library information). Or you might just want to have a page on your library’s website devoted to this information – the Gallagher Law Library has a great example for their state. Students with summer positions could benefit from the information as well.
We also need to make sure our students know two very important things: One, their research skills are transferable – they will work well in different libraries because the books and resources are mostly the same. And two, you can always ask a librarian. Whether in another school library, a county library, or in the law firm library librarians want to help them find the needed resource.
That was exactly what I did after my wave of despondency passed and I got a grip on myself. I found the closest law school library to me, went in, and asked the librarian for help. I was directed to the Decennial Digest and had an answer within an hour. Although it wasn’t good news for the client, my ability to research the issue got me the job. We should hope that all of our fledglings do as well.
What does your library do to make sure students are prepared to do research elsewhere? Does anyone have any resources or tips to share?