One of the new things that we taught this semester was a more in depth discussion about the ethics of research. There are several things to teach about ethics. Many of them we have taught before – you have to do enough research, you have to update your research with citators, you have to research both sides of the issue, etc. Some of it is newer, but pretty mundane – if you have access to Accurint, don’t look up Reese Witherspoon, and it is fine to do fact research on jurors in preparation for trial.
But what was specifically new this year was a discussion regarding metadata and ethics. Although this may not specifically be the purview of the library, it is an information issue. As the information professionals, we are arguably the ones who can best present this to students. This issue has been around for some time. The ABA has formal ethics opinions on the release of and use of metadata. There is a compiled chart of action taken on metadata by the state bars or ethics commissions. Helping to make students aware of this information should be part of our job as keepers of information. Also, how to get the information – although the ABA has listed it, students will have to go to Westlaw or Lexis in most cases to get the actual opinions without paying for it. It definitely is our job to make sure they know where to find the databases for the ethics opinions and how to do a search to see if there are any new decisions (I have to say the ABA has done a great job on the chart as it is.)
There are also several ways to clean metadata. There are programs that do it. There are ways to do it directly in Word, WordPerfect, and other productivity programs. Microsoft has directions specifically for lawyers on how to do it for their products (although some of them are old) including Excel and PowerPoint. There are steps to be taken beforehand to make it easier to clean the metadata. Mac users may have some challenges, but there are resources out there that address them. Here is another resource on basic ways to scrub metadata in many programs.
When we presented to students we talked about the ethical problem itself. This isn’t a new problem, many attorneys have inadvertently sent items to opposing counsel that were meant to go to the client or sent an attachment that shouldn’t have gone to a party, electronic delivery just makes it quicker and easier to make mistakes. We talked about how to protect a document on the front end and how to scrub it when you are done. We also showed the students some search strategies to find new ways to clean metadata as products and technology change – we taught them how to research the metadata issue. Ah, we felt like librarians again.
What things do you teach your students in research that may not be exclusively a legal research issue?