The research, just the research, and nothing but the research

I am increasingly concerned about the combination of legal research with legal writing, both in classes and in text books. When legal research is taught with legal writing it seems that legal research always gets the short end of the stick.

The most recent example I have seen is the Second Edition of the text Scholarly Writing: Ideas, Examples, and Execution by Jessica L. Clark and Kristen E. Murray. I like much about the text: it has nice examples of writing and because it is about scholarly writing, it covers some topics that other books do not; and overall it is a good resource on writing for upper level writing requirements, journals, and publication. But what I don’t like is what causes me distress about the combination legal research and writing classes; the bulk of the time is spent covering writing, not research.  Scholarly Writing is over 300 pages long (some of it appendix with samples). Of those 300 pages,37 cover research. That is only 7 more pages than the book spends on publication of papers (most of which could be found easily online by the reader if they were a good researcher).

This is the intrinsic problem with the LRW combo. The R  gets 10% while the W gets 90%. Without research, good research, the best writing is pointless. “But wait!” many say, “You can’t have R without W!” Yes, you can. And you should. Of course students will need to write up their research findings in a research class. But it doesn’t need to be in IRAC or CREAC or any other AC. A summary, similar to what would be given to a client or written as a note to the file is fine. There are always times you do research without writing: to find a statute of limitations, to determine a time limit for responding to a motion, to determine residency requirements for dissolution in a state, and the list goes on and on. Likewise, you can have writing without research: a motion to continue, basic advice on a will or dissolution, a request for settlement, there are boundless examples.

To continue to insist that research and writing must be taught together, or tied together in any way, is like requiring evidence and criminal law be taught together. You can’t take a criminal case to trial without evidentiary rulings, but we don’t teach those subjects together. You can’t effectively represent a client in a tort case without being ready to proceed in a hearing under the civil rules of procedure, but they are separate classes. The only way to impress upon students that they may be spending more than 50% of their time doing research is to have a separate graded research class for every law student. Otherwise, they see it as something that must be rushed through; as something that should be 10% of the project when in reality it may take 50-60% of the time they spend.

Legal research is a specialized, important, stand alone skill for attorneys.  It should be treated that way in law schools. And who better than instructional librarians to lead that charge?

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About Shawn Friend

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One Response to The research, just the research, and nothing but the research

  1. I think this may be linked again to the fact that there is no research (but plenty of writing on the Bar Exam). Law Schools are evaluated based on how many of the students pass the bar and not really on the students’ ability to do research.

    Also, in many institutions, the role of the law librarian as instructor is secondary to their role as a 9-5 staff member. This dichotomy can lead to the opinions of library staff with respect to curriculum having less weight than writing faculty. It can be hard for librarians to be heard. I think you are preaching to the choir here, Shawn.

    Librarians know that research needs more emphasis and may even know that it needs its own course. When I was wrapping up library school in 2010, the push was for integrated information literacy, where adult learners learned to do research just-in-time and in the context of other substantive work either through the implementation of embedded librarianship, or with 2 courses taught in tandem, one substantive, one research.

    The fact that this has not really permeated the field of law librarianship may be part of the overarching problem with librarianship, law schools and with the modern world of work. Everyone is being asked to do more with less and to take on more tasks, and the development of new curricula for independent research courses may be icing on the cake for law libraries that can barely afford to buy the cake.

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