Textbook Selection

By Meg Butler

When planning a course one of the first decisions to make is about the text for the course. Do you want to use teacher created materials, writing them yourselves or as a committee of teachers? Would you like to make a course packet of specific articles that you think are worthy? Perhaps you would like to use the CALI resources, including lessons and the eLangdell eBooks such as the Introduction to Basic Legal Citation. Relying upon existing books, you have options including formal textbooks, workbooks, or even nutshells. You may choose to mix and match these options—teacher created materials and workbooks, for example.

What should you think about as you make your decision? I wanted to share the factors I am considering as I plan whether (or what) book to adopt for my advanced legal research course next spring. Last spring I taught using selected articles, but I was not entirely satisfied with that approach.

First, but probably the most complicated, I need to be aware of my educational and teaching goals for the class-and how I think “the book” will support those goals. For a specialized research course, I may prefer a specialized text, if one exists. A secondary question related to those goals involves considering the AALL Legal Research Competencies and Standards for Law Student Information Literacy. How well does a potential text help me train the students of today to be the lawyers of tomorrow?

I also consider how I plan to use the book. Is it a safety net for students to consult after class or is the book meant to prepare them for class sessions, as in the flipped classroom model that Shawn described? Do I want the students to see the book as a resource they will hold onto and refer to after graduation?

Cost is a particularly important question to me. Students report spending upwards of $1000 a semester on required books. I feel honor bound to be sure that any costs I ask the students to incur are warranted. If I require a text, I want them to use the whole thing, not merely a chapter or two! When making that decision, I ask myself if there is a less expensive alternative that is as effective. I know librarians who assign nutshells about legal research, rather than more expensive textbooks, because they are so much less expensive and they do a ‘good enough’ job conveying the necessary information.

The legal research world is in flux with new platforms and new services coming online in recent years. Of course, that means that my teaching materials need to be current. I expect to teach students using next generation legal research platforms, and I need a book that will support student learning. Of course, as a supplement to a formal textbook or as part of the build-your-own-book model, you may elect to use vendor-created materials. These often provide more current information about online legal research strategies and techniques. A colleague used the Westlaw Plan Finder to help students understand the cost of legal research tools in private practice.

These factors help me evaluate the textbook options for spring semester. If you would like to read more about it, I recommend that you also consider Nancy Johnson’s 2011 article “Should You Use a Textbook to Teach Legal Research?”

How are you planning to teach legal research—an assigned text or your own materials? Are there other factors you would recommend considering?

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One Response to Textbook Selection

  1. Patricia Cervenka says:

    I have taught Advanced Legal Research for 20 years in four different schools. In three of the schools, the course was an elective, and now I teach where it is mandatory. I have never asked the students to buy a book for the class. I do have a few research books, including the state legal research books, on reserve. That way I can offer selected chapters as suggested reading if they need it to refresh what they learned as 1L students. In addition there are so many research guides posted on academic law library and state law library websites, in addition to the exercises on CALI, that it seems redundant to ask students to buy a book. My most popular source of problems come from the local newspapers and national legal newspapers. There is nothing like taking a story about a case from Lawyer’s Weekly, ABA Journal, or a BNA alert and asking students to resarch the law and tell me the advice they would give one or both of the parties based on their research. And, of course, sometimes those problems take the form of asking them how they would draft that employment contract or prenuptial agreement after their research so that they would help their client avoid the problem in the first place.

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